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The Benefits of Inequality 254

Posted by Soulskill
from the depending-on-which-side-of-the-equation-you're-on dept.
New submitter MutualFun sends this article from Science News: Which would you prefer: egalitarianism or totalitarianism? When it comes down to it, the choice you make may not be as obvious as you think. New research suggests that in the distant past, groups of hunter-gatherers may have recognized and accepted the benefits of living in hierarchical societies, even if they themselves weren't counted among the well-off. This model could help explain why bands of humans moved from largely egalitarian groups to hierarchical cultures in which social inequality was rife.
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The Benefits of Inequality

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  • by digsbo (1292334) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:37PM (#47665871)
    So many people refuse to think for themselves. I don't really have a problem with that, except when they persecute me for exercising that right myself.
  • False choice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by For a Free Internet (1594621) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:37PM (#47665875)

    Bullshit bourgeois propaganda.

    Communism is a classless, stateless society and the road to communism passes through the dictatorship of the proletariat.

  • Or... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:43PM (#47665927)

    We could stop automatically assuming a hierarchy has to involve unequal distribution. Perhaps being at the top of a hierarchy is enough of a social motivator that people would take on those responsibilities without taking an unequal share of everyone else's work?

  • by B-Town (740527) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:45PM (#47665939)
    As a rule, I'm skeptical of everything that uses evolution to explain societal structures. Most of the time it just boils down to a nifty story devoid of any evidence. That seems to be the case here: 1) Come up with a point you want prove 2) Rejig the currently accepted but highly unrealistic assumptions in the field until the model gives the desired result 3) Publish! I see this kind of nonsense in economics papers all the time. Heartening to see that we aren't the only ones cursed with pointless theorizing.
  • Re:False choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:48PM (#47665965)

    The problem is that the road through the dictatorship of the proletariat is a dead end.

  • by nine-times (778537) <> on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:48PM (#47665967) Homepage

    Some people assume that totalitarian/hierarchical organizations are simply inherently bad, and "democracy" is inherently good. Really, it's more about the situation and context.

    For example, even in our modern "democracy", our military still uses a top-down hierarchy with a rigid chain of command. There are good reasons for this. When you're in dangerous situations, organization and timing can become vital to the survival of the group, and survival tends to trump social justice. If the military commander has a plan that requires a troop of soldiers move to a particular location in a short amount of time, you don't want people standing around debating, or wondering whether the plan is fair. You need people to follow orders immediately, or else a lot of people might die.

    There have been situations in humanity's past when this would have been true of social/governmental organizations too. If the chief needs everyone to mobilize in order to avert disaster and keep the entire tribe from being wiped out, then you don't want a lot of debate. The whole setup worked pretty well for a while.

    Of course now, things are different. Most of our lives (speaking at least of the people reading Slashdot) are relatively safe and comfortable. We don't need to follow orders immediately and unquestioningly in order to stay alive. Also, our society is larger, and the concentration of power is greater. The danger of taking time for debate is not greater than the danger of a bad ruler with absolute power over a society, so totalitarianism seems like it's not such a great idea.

  • Re:Or... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:49PM (#47665995)

    Indeed. Under communism, comrade, all pigs will be equal. It's just the pigs at the top will have instant access to executive jets, Zil limos and dashas in the country, while the pigs at the bottom will wait twenty years for a Trabant.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:49PM (#47665997)

    Inequality wouldn't be so bad if we had a robust safety net and didn't fuck people at the bottom. It's one thing to be poor, it's another to have to survive day to day worrying about food, shelter, health care, etc. As long as we keep screwing people, any argument defending inequality is completely void of substance or ethics.

  • by liquid_schwartz (530085) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:51PM (#47666003)
    as if nothing exists between absolute equality and absolute inequality. "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." - Obi Wan Kenobi
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:55PM (#47666059) Homepage Journal

    It is a common problem with absolutists. They think everything is binary when it's nested case statements with table-driven variables.

    There is no either or - there is A B C C1 C2 D E1 NULL. And the boundaries between A and B are artificial limitations not found in nature, but only in perception.

  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:57PM (#47666077)

    Democracy is just a terrible system of government, but it turns out it's all we can trust ourselves with to not fuck shit up. The vote of a retard counts just as much as the vote of a genius, and that's ridiculous, but what's even more ridiculous is that everything else has turned out worse.

    Ideally we would be ruled by a benevolent artificial intelligence who can determine without outside input what is best for everyone.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:01PM (#47666101)

    False Dichotomy

  • by onproton (3434437) <> on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:04PM (#47666127)
    Which is why we don't actually have a democracy, we have a republic, in which all of us have the wonderful freedom to choose between corrupt representative 1, or corrupt representative 2. Perhaps if democracy could be implemented without the polarizing effect of the 2 party system, or in a way that allowed more direct voting on actual issues instead of arbitrarily grouped policies it would be more functional - but then again maybe not.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:07PM (#47666153)

    I suppose that Capitalism is a step up then, making only 90-something percent equally poor and the remaining percentage astoundingly rich.

    The problem with any system is people. Pure free-market Capitalism is wonderful, but cannot exist, much like Pure Communism.
    Imagine anything else with the 'rules' as enforced by either system in the real world. A baseball game where the owner of one team simply goes out and pays the pitcher of the other team to throw easy pitches, or pays the governing body to make a rule where any team that plays their team is only allowed to take 5 steps per minute or something equally unfair.

    Economic systems usually come down to who can cheat the most effectively. If everyone did the same thing as the people that 'rise' to the top, we'd all starve to death. In any system.

  • by mi (197448) <> on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:17PM (#47666255) Homepage

    The word "equality" is meaningless without the clarification: equality of what? Hair color? Penis size?

    In the context of politics, the following two equalities are usually meant by the arguing sides — even when neither side makes their own meaning explicit:

    Equality of Opportunity versus Equality of Results .

    The "all men created equal" concept is about equality of opportunity: you start with (roughly) the same things as everybody else and whatever you achieve (or not achieve as the case might be) is due to your own industry, frugality, and, perhaps, genes. We might be created equal (subject to gene variations), but what we do after the creation is up to us.

    The equality of results is the opposite: whatever you do, you will have (roughly) the same things at the end: if you are more successful than average, the State will tax you to ensure the results of the less successful aren't too different from yours — a concept lovingly referred to as "spreading the wealth around".

    A large number of politicians made careers of conflating the two equalities — by harping at the absence of latter and implying, the former does not exist. Such demagoguery patently dishonest not only in theory, but also in practice []...

  • Re:Wrong again! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:33PM (#47666409)

    The USSR was great!

    If you weren't ukranian, Slavic, gypsie, Christian, an "enemy of the state", or just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • by mlts (1038732) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:38PM (#47666459)

    We really need different organizations. As above, the military needs to be strictly hierarchical. However, the civilian leadership needs to be representative of the people's wants. Here is my proposal:

    Instead of elections, why not have all representatives be picked from a lottery of all citizens, similar to jury duty. Instead of a jury picking a foreman, they nominate and elect a president.

    This way, the elected people are truly a cross section of the governed, voter fraud isn't an issue, and with proper enforcement of bribery laws, the big "campaign donations" that plague the US wouldn't be an issue. After four years, a new lottery takes place, and a new bunch of people get into office.

  • by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:46PM (#47666531) Homepage
    Under Communism, man exploits man.

    Under Capitalism, it's the other way round.
  • It's human nature (Score:5, Insightful)

    by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @05:58PM (#47666647) Homepage
    In any group of people some are going to be better at some tasks than others. We put value on those tasks depending on how much they're needed or wanted by society. In a society like we have today, doctors are more valuable than burger flippers so they're paid more. It's not always that simple, but that's the way we tend to perceive it.

    True superiority is actually unifying. False superiority is where the problems come from. When the king (or democratically elected government) begins to believe that they are all-knowing and infallible, people are right to oppose them.
  • Re:Or... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mirix (1649853) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @06:28PM (#47666887)

    Yeah, because the only alternative to American style inequality is Soviet style inequality, right?

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @06:40PM (#47666963)

    I was about to write the same thing (sorry, no points to mod you up).

    About the strongest claims from evolutionary sociologists / psychologists / etc. that I'm willing to entertain are of the form "We can see how X could have led to an evolutionary benefit when we assume their world operated like Y. So, if the world really did operate like Y, then maybe evolutionary pressures were a reason X was true." Modulo the plausibility of X and Y having been actually true for a significant fraction of the population being discussed.

    I've sometimes wondered if I'm being too hard on those academics because I don't fully understand their claims, or because they know stuff that I don't. But I find it completely plausible that their community is simply engaged in a huge group-think circle-jerk.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @09:24PM (#47667843)

    The very definition of totalitarianism is that you do not get a choice in the matter. This "research" stinks of propaganda that may be part of a slow effort to bring people around to actually welcome totalitarianism.

  • by towermac (752159) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @09:53PM (#47667977)

    "It's one thing to be poor, it's another to have to survive day to day worrying about food, shelter, health care, etc."

    No, that's not another thing. That's exactly what 'being poor' means.

    I don't think you've ever been poor, or you would know this.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @10:02PM (#47668017)

    Nonsense. The difference is whether those on top coordinate or decide. The first is non-hierarchical with regard to power. The second is. The rare good manager knows that he serves his workers and that it is his job to remove obstacles. The failed manager thinks that it is his job to rule his underlings.

  • by chihowa (366380) * on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @10:12PM (#47668067)

    We don't need leaders. We need representatives.

    "Leaders", who treat the country and its citizens as their plaything, are what got us into this mess.

Wasn't there something about a PASCAL programmer knowing the value of everything and the Wirth of nothing?