Wednesday, June 12, 2013

An Observation Continued

My brother has a dog, a Boston terrier, which is, I'm sure, convinced that I'm a total idiot. It's His sole purpose in life is to have fun playing catch. When I show up, it he approaches with a ratty old tennis ball in it's his mouth, which I refuse to take the clue. It He gets more and more frustrated and insistent until I finally give in and throw the ball. What took me so long? Clearly, I'm an idiot.

I'm sure cows must think the same thing. "Milk me, you idiot", they low to me. Similarly cats, chickens, pigeons, squirrels, and really almost any animal that has consistent contact with us must think that we are just as dumb as a box of rocks.

My surmise is, if or when hyperintelligent synthetic brains or computers are developed/spontaneously emerge, we humans will consider them fucking stupid as hell, complete dolts, clueless morons.

I'm sure the Roman plebes, the lower classes that worked for a living, must have felt the same towards the monied and propertied patricians. In the previous essay, on a revolt and secession of the laboring classes in Rome of the 5th century BCE, it was assumed that Gaius Menenius Agrippa's fable of the idle belly was about the patrician class. However, I have to ask the question if it was, or if the belly analogy was about the lower classes and an intestinal revolt?

Reason I ask that is Gaius seems to have a rather enlightened, clear-eyed, almost apologetic attitude toward his upper class compatriots, the idle rich, far too modern a view. My suspicion is the fable is a realization, an admission that the lower classes apparently serve a purpose within Roman society. Reason I say that is at the time, the patricians would have considered themselves the truly important portion of Roman society. They were, after all, the main military force used for defense of the homeland and expansion of the frontiers (Rome at the time relied upon private militias, and a standing army was far in the future), the priesthood and sole arbiter with the gods (propitiation of the gods took up an inordinately large amount of time in Roman society, and the aristocracy held all priestly positions, all ceremonial and auguring duties rested solely with them), a hereditary clientele/patronage system existed with the aristocrats calling the shots (job creators), and, of course, all publicly held lands were administered by the Senate (and obviously to promote the general welfare, all for the public good, right?). All in all, the plebs, the lower classes, were but mere scenery, the stage and sets upon which the real actors, the aristocracy performed. Part of the background to be ignored, and an absurdity that they should rebel at all, as if the very trees and rocks picked up and left! So, it must have seen exceedingly large-hearted and progressive in the extreme for Gaius to recognize the lowly proles might actually in some lazy fashion contribute to society after all.

At least that's my take, times being what they were.  Fast forward to the 17th century, and honestly, not much changed, did it? You still have the landed and monied class in a position of privilege, not really paying much attention to the sturdy yeoman farmers, laborers, and mechanics that naturally gave some form of support and sustainment to the Founding Fathers, granted, occasionally underfoot and annoyingly vocal, but useful, I suppose, in helping greater things to be accomplished. Say what you will about the efficacy of the Constitution, if is clearly a pre-industrial, medieval document written to assure and protect the rights and privileges of the American elites. Otherwise, why not support universal suffrage and egalitarianism - the voting rights of the property-less, the freeing of slaves, and granting of equal treatment to women and other undesirables? And that's all right there in the Constitution, right?

And that would, in turn, explain the fork in the road this nation took in 1857, when the twin competing stimulus packages (and visions) stood before Congress, of America as a slave empire, or America as an absorber of cheap peoples to run machines. It could have gone to the former. The South, for the first half of the 19th century, held all the cards in an America whose chief export - at least until 1914 - was agricultural produce. We forget that some of the richest people on the planet were Southern planters with enormous capital in land, produce, and slaves.

I've often wondered how that dark world would have played into the future, had the vision of slave empire come to pass. Would we as a nation still have a giant asshole on the twenty dollar bill? Or would he have moved up in denomination? I've no doubt America would be a banana republic, and certainly with a titled aristocracy. Would there now be foment and revolution and strife in our territories and dominions throughout the Western hemisphere? Or would that have happened in the 1920s? Or not all? Could it be that by now, as in Rome, some 40% of all American citizens would be slaves, with a market in nearly every town? Who can say? It's probably worth a book. But I can't see that world, despite all of our failings here, being better than our world.

 Of course, it was not meant to be. I've got to look to the Industrial Revolution for part of the change, although I've never bought into the economic argument that slavery was inefficient, considering modern statistics. I think the real kicker was the telegraph and the steam engine, which allowed modern bureaucracy and the corporate state.

Ever seen the nerves in primitive animals like the squid giant axon? The nerves are that big because they are not insulated, the leak electricity down the message path. Along come the glial cells, almost like some aliens from another planet, and encase the stodgy nerves in an amazing support system. Interestingly, the glial cells in our nervous system out number neurons about ten to one, about the same as plebs to aristos in ancient Rome, or common citizens to Revolutionary aristocrats statesmen. I'd like to make that my number, Kurman's number, like Dunbar's number, were it not so far off from present day's number of, what, 99 to 1?

1 comment:

  1. I think the real kicker was the telegraph and the steam engine, which allowed modern bureaucracy and the corporate state.

    Abundant cheap energy, whether coal or oil, firing those steam engines and powering that communications grid...,

    Speaking of which, interesting provocations posed by non college graduate IT grunts administering systems on which the modern patrician action depends, and deciding that said patrician action is a crock of shit desperately in need of airing out.