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"social inequality in large, complex human societies is an inevitable fact of life" -
well, that's right, unless we have a society which doesn't allow consentration of wealth. Such a society could grant everyone satisfaction of basic material needs and basic social ones like health care (everyone have to participate). More than basic material consumption is discredited within society by strong negative feedbacks and vise versa.


So after that we could have inequality based on common good: the more sbd is doing voluntary after basic compulsory participation - the greater his social position is. Arts, science, education, innovation, nature restoration and so on

Don Levit

I agree with much of what you wrote.
Years ago, I remember saying to my father "We have control over about 2% of the things that can happen to us.
It is up to us to take control of that 2%."
He was fascinated with that concept, and not too many things I said could move my dad like that.
We can say that humans have limited free will.
It is important psychologically that we feel we have some control over our present and our future, that the acts we do or do not do can make a significant difference, at least for a few people - the more, the better.
Thinking that free will never exists may be true, but thinking we can make a difference gives our lives significance.
And to feel that our lives count gives us a reason to more than just survive.
So, to maintain 2 conflicting ideas in our minds simultaneously, is what is required to realistically deal with this important issue.
We are big deals, but in the whole scheme of things, we are no more important than worms - what our bodies eventually turn in to.
Don Levit


Batalos, yes, we could have many things. But the fact is that we don't. Just as we don't have free will.

Mike Roberts

I hadn't read about hunter/gatherer societies practicing infanticide. I can't think of a reason why that would be a common practice in such societies.


Good exposition Dave. I agree that free will is largely illusory - except for the odd action we might take to deliberately go against our natural inclination to behave in a certain way in certain circumstances, as if to prove we have free will. However, this truism doesn't stop the idea of free will being put on a pedestal as some kind of pinnacle of human superiority, by a number of species propagandists. We really are deluded if we believe we have the ability to freely choose how we act at every juncture. We will ordinarily act based on our genetics, our conditioning and our experience, all of which is hardly freedom of action.

For this reason alone, it is pointless expecting human society to be any different than it is now and always has been - namely unjust, unequal and violently survivalist in the Darwinian sense (give or take a few fleeting experiments in utopian social engineering, doomed to quick failure as human nature reasserts its ugly face).

On this basis, I have concluded that it is time to stop gnashing my teeth and bemoaning the terrible and primitive society of mankind. I now realize it's like baying at the moon for shining, or complaining that rain is wet.

What's left is to derive some kind of contentment wherever it can be found, including developing a camaraderie with whichever fellow prisoners of earth are on your own wavelength.


Excellent essay. I'm reminded of the essay you wrote a while back about "luck".


Mike, infanticide in hunter-gatherer societies was practiced (and may still be practiced) in certain situations. For example, when I lived in the Marshall Islands, I was told by my "family" that after a terrific hurricane, children under the age of 5-6 would be killed because there would be little to no food for a very long time. The thought behind that is pretty clear and very realistic...all humans would be needed to find/plant/make food and children could be made again. A quick merciful death was better than watching them starve to death.
Under normal circumstances, the custom is that women and children eat first, especially pregnant women were and are given first choice at mealtime, while the men ate what was left over.

A great and timely writing Dave. I woke up this morning thinking about self esteem vs self control re my students. Self esteem has absolutely no bearing on one's "success" in any endeavor, but self control certainly does. I wish I could share your writing, but unfortunately the world of education is still pandering to self esteem, a BIG part of the problems facing the current human condition.

Mike Roberts

Thanks, Gretchen. However, looks like I might have misread Dave's essay today because it doesn't include the example of hunter/gatherer infanticide, as I'd earlier thought. But I can see that your explanation might be a reasonable reaction to low food (though I can think of others) that I hadn't read before.


This is one of your best posts. That's really all I want to say.


True free will seems to come only with some degree of self awareness. That is, if you aren't even aware of why you do things, you have little to no chance of changing that behavior. Yet, if we look at historically more prosperous societies with relatively educated populaces and more equitable resource distribution (I am thinking Golden age Greece/ Rome, post WW2 US, modern northern Europe, etc.) the societies seem to place greater emphasis on improving things (recognizing rights and education, lower crime and violence, etc.) and acting with something resembling a conscious. Poor, ignorant nations tend to do the opposite, especially when resources are scarce/locked up.

I don't think that this is a coincidence. As you point out, there are two levels of free will- the individual and the collective society. But the collective is nothing more than a collection of all the individuals within it. Thus, a violent society tends to reflect violent people. A peaceful, educated, egalitarian populace is likely to produce a society that reflects that.

Of course, even in the greatest societies, human flaws are ever present. But at least it is something of a step up, yes? AT least until inevitable corruption brings them down.

Batalos: Your statement speaks from an ideal. The problem is the survival imperative. Our base drive is to secure resources to promote survival including procreation. Since humans must cooperate to survive, this generally manifests as humans trying to manipulate and screw each other as much as possible. Every once and a while, some realize that such behavior is self defeating and counter productive and, even rarer, sometimes something is done about it. But generally not and the most cunning, brutal, and vicious tend to benefit and, therefore, pass on those traits. Those who are too anti-social tend to suffer (since the group turns on their obviously destructive nature), but so do those who are not mean enough (since they make easy marks). Depending on the level of stability, violence is either outright, or hidden through political and social devices.

Historically, more peaceful societies such as primitive farmers tended to get dominated by more warlike ones. So it's not that it can't be done, it's that it cannot be maintained.


What 'free will'? The average American is brainwashed even before they are born by the previous brainwashing of their parents. It is then reinforced at every step of your life through every media outlet you access, every day you spend in school, your parents religion, and now the internet. You don't even see it happening. Do they teach you how money REALLY works in school? How the banking system really originated to gain control of you? How it enslaves you for life? Do they teach you all about the Constitution and how it works and why? Or the Bill of Rights? Do they teach you ANYTHING of real value besides basic reading, writing and math? Nope! Educated slaves are dangerous. They might wake up and think for themselves, if they still can. And I won't even get into fluoride, etc.


Great post. I nod with assent, yet the pain of acknowledgement lingers.

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