Dear Last Barbarians,
Bears do not have kings. When bears meet in the mountains, they might fight, or they might copulate, or they might move on, but that is all. One bear might tacitly be recognized as the most powerful in that moment, but that is all, and when they move on, the moment is over. Never will one bear say to the other: I can beat you, you are my slave now, you work for me.
Never will one bear attempt to persuade or draw investment from the other, they will never promise to meet on Tuesday to gang up on a third bear. One bear will not support another bear in a disagreement of bears.
But, apes will do those things. Apes will establish networks of support; they will attempt to persuade, and they will plan an attack. We are king of apes.
The bear is suited to its environment; it does not rely on contact with other bears, and so it does not seek to be admired by other bears.
Chimpanzees do somewhat rely on their place in the group for opportunities to food and protection and copulation, and so chimps want to be admired.
Human groups are larger than chimp groups, and even include imaginary people, and human well being is almost completely reliant on other humans, and so we form large, complex hierarchies, social pyramids with a few wealthy at the top and more and more people the farther down the social scale you go. That shape, the pyramid, forms naturally, it is part of the nature of social systems to encourage kings; it is in our nature, too.
Leaders are created when the system generates a surplus. We want to be admired by many; a surplus brings admiration.
Not all human groups have hierarchies. Not all human groups value things, surplus, over other values. But all human groups that value things have hierarchies. It is a nature of the social structure, it creates opportunities for some to profit from the labor and consumption of others.
Not all social systems are equal; in the world of bodies, some are strong, some are weak. As in any assemblage of bodies, some weak do well by specializing, presenting something to the group which no one else can or will. In general, though, when a strong and violent society confronts a society which specializes in simply caring for its people, the strong body takes slaves and kills the rest.
It is the monotonous lessons of history, too common to bother you with examples. Spin the globe, put your finger down and there is a history of pointless cruelty, hardship and always death. Yet, for all their wars, they drove population growth and created ever larger and more powerful civil bodies, incorporating more and more slaves.
Kings are bad for humankind. They are bad for the world.
Yet, you would be king bandit. Here is why:
You want to live, you want your children to live. To do that well, you need to have social status; if your status is high, you will have a buffer from want and hardship, because the body generates surplus from the labor of some, and from the Earth, and gives that surplus to those higher up the social ladder. Being admired by many will give you access to more of the surplus of those beneath you.
For example, in my day, I can go to a restaurant to eat my meal. I will order a nice meal, because I am reasonably far up the social ladder, but working in the restaurant will be people who can not afford to eat there, they are paid so little, it is beyond their means. The food the comes to the restaurant is like that, too, the people who work in the fields, who tend the stock, likewise would not be able to eat in this restaurant. Above me in the social ladder are people who eat in restaurants I couldn’t afford to eat in. If I could get a job there, because of my low status, I would not make enough money to eat there. The people above me live off me because they sell things to me: the owner of the restaurant I go to can afford to eat in a better quality restaurant than her own.
So, to live well and have your children live well you want to be admired by many, and so to collect the surplus from the labor of many, many.
This places you in the body in such a way as to cause you to attempt to creep higher and higher, because we judge ourselves, and our place in the body, relative to others like ourselves. This is just what people do, they often don’t mind that the bandit king steals from them every day, but if a neighbor gets something they don’t have, something they think the neighbor doesn’t deserve, they become angry.
It is called “relative deprivation” which means we judge the world by our peers, not our betters, but we want to be at the top of our peers.
Why do we do this, compare ourselves to others like ourselves, instead of becoming angry at those who are much better off? Because we interact most with those like ourselves, and so those are the people we most know and understand. And, because we have the status, the admiration, to question our peers, but not usually our betters. And, because they have more admiration than we do, and the body will protect them from us.
And so, we arrange ourselves in the body according to the admiration we have. By comparing ourselves to those like ourselves, and by insisting they follow the rules which protect your admiration, you solidify the body. To protect your place in the body, you protect the body. Anything you can do to improve your status among your peers, you will do.
Association with the group above your group, a kind of admiration, also increases your status among your group. For example, the wealthy of Britain had huge yards of lawn; the point was that they had so much land, they could afford to have some just sit and be green, instead of producing income. As a result, those who had more modest holdings also put in lawns, because they wanted to associate with the higher status people.
But, to become bandit king, you have to have more admiration, because people of equal admiration will challenge you, and try to take those beneath you away, for their own profit. It takes admiration to raise money for war, wars are often fought on speculation. Initially, in the early days of king bandits, soldiers often get paid in the booty they stole, and the higher ranking people got paid in gold and land and slaves. One bandit king would finance and army of another bandit king to thug a third bandit king, and then they shared the booty.
So, if you love things, and you appreciate the advantage of living off the surplus of others, you might be king. To become king you might have to kill another king, but that is OK, because they would have done it to you, if they could. But, it is your friends who helped you do this, and they helped you kill one king to get booty, but now that king is gone, and you have so much.
You will have to reward your friends often, and to do that, you will have to make war so you have the booty, and to make war, you will need friends, whom you will have to reward, by making war.
And so, people and the Earth suffer, but the system lives and thrives, and doesn’t care who is king, just so there is one.
Maybe king bandit you?