The Fundamental Theory

 

ODAY BADDAR | APRIL 28, 2012

 


1 - Introduction


Four and a half million years - That's how long our species has been around on this planet according to the latest anthropological findings. But it was only 12,000 years ago that humanity made the one discovery that sparked off the very beginning of civilization and propelled us into the modern society we're in today. That transcendental turning point was none other than the discovery of farming.

When the Sumerians in the Fertile Crescent discovered that they could grow, harvest, and store grains, it meant the ability to survive without having to go out hunting and gathering; without having to continuously move from one area to another in search of food and water1. Not having to stay on the move for survival, it became worth the effort to build more permanent housing facilities - warmer, safer, more durable; right next to their food supply.

Soon after, advanced farming was followed by another related discovery: the domestication of animals. Food had never been this plenty in all the millions of years that had passed before.

This new found sense of security, from permanent residency, led to expanding communities; villages, towns, and cities2. With cities the tribes got so big that the need for more complex organizational skills and codes of conduct quickly upgraded into politics3; which is to say governance and policy making (legal, economic, etc).

But that's not all. Well-fed, more organized, and secured within high city walls, humanity moved up to the next level on the hierarchy of needs4; they began to meditate and contemplate. New theories, discoveries, and inventions sprang out right and left; the most important of which was writing.

Writing systems were first invented in the Levant 5000 years ago, not because people wanted to preserve history or to write stories, but because they simply needed a more reliable way to observe laws, account for financial transactions, and identify the value of coins. A thousand years later, the first phonetic alphabet was born, developed by the Canaanites (a.k.a. Phoenicians).

In fact, art and history were two of the unintended byproducts of writing. Because of writing we were able to preserve ideas and pass them on to successive generations. Without writing, our ancestors would not have been able to obtain knowledge cumulatively; to resume the unfinished work of their predecessors and build on what thoughts and discoveries they had left behind.

Hence, the foundations of philosophy, science, religion, etc., were passed from the Levant to Egypt, Persia, and Greece, then to Rome, Arabia, and finally Western Europe and the New World. The Far East had its independent tract of development, only to converge with the Near East at a later stage.

Comparatively, the great majority of North American Indians did not discover farming, nor did they need to, for their vast lands were as plentiful as the Garden of Eden. The absence of farming explains the absence of the chain of events that the eastern hemisphere had gone through: No farming meant no need for more permanent housing facilities, which meant no big villages and cities, which meant no need for sophisticated politics and laws, which meant no need for writing systems, which meant the absence of cumulative knowledge and precise historical records, aside from what has been relayed through the oral tradition5.


2 - The Origin of Norms and Values


But let's go back 12,000 years ago, before farming; before civilization began. Back to the simplest human lifestyle to see how and where our cultures - specifically our norms and values - were formed.

Human beings naturally live in groups. We are social animals, and that was in essence what necessitated some set of values and norms (unwritten codes of conduct), clear and simple, to govern our relations in order to maximize the benefits of the individual and the group. This conclusion does not require research to deduce; it is self-evident. Nevertheless, observing the behavior of immature human beings, children in particular, we learn that selfishness and seeking one's individual interests seems to be innate. To see that benefiting the entire group results in greater benefits to the individual, however, requires mental maturity.

2.1 - Superman (Respect)

Take the value of respect for instance, in particular respecting one's elders. A four-year-old child wants to jump out of the window of an apartment on the fourteenth floor, because he knows he can fly! His mother coolly commands him to back away from the window and sit still. He asks her why, and she explains to him but his sense of logic hasn't developed yet to a sufficient level. He must then choose between blind obedience and his own independent faulty reasoning.

This is the essence of respect: a value that drives us to obey the wishes or commands of others despite our inability to comprehend the reasons behind them. Those kids who couldn't stand the idea of blind obedience ended up jumping, rocketing themselves into concrete and asphalt. The rest of us got to stick around to be reading these words.

2.2 - Sami's Ephiphany (Generosity and Friendship)

Put five children in a room with five cookies placed on a table, then watch how the more talented kid figures out a way to take all five cookies. Still young and inexperienced, he cannot calculate the greater benefits of generosity that his ancestors have lived by for thousands of generations.

Imagine a group made up of six men, six women, and their children living in a forest in the pre-farming era. Every day or so, the six men go off to hunt (the only job they had), while the women and children stayed behind where it is safe. Of the six men, Sami is the strongest, smartest, and most skillful. He's the one who almost always catches the prey while the other five only try. Yet after every hunting mission, Sami shares what he catches with the other five to take back to their families.

Why does Sami, who is stronger, smarter, and more skillful than all the other five combined, and who can hunt and get his food on his own without their help, bother to share his food with anyone? Why does he put up with them free-riding off of his hard-earned profits (meat)?

But this thinking had ceased to cross Sami's experienced, mature mind since he was eleven years old. By sharing his profits with the other families Sami is in fact making an investment, referred to among contemporary social scientists as "social capital." I call it social insurance.

Before he turned eleven, Sami had adopted the lifestyle of "take all and give none." But then he went through an experience that had forever changed his rational profit equation. It was a stormy night, and Sami had slipped and fallen into a deep pit. He had twisted his ankle badly, in addition to bad cuts and bruises that, if left untreated, would have led to chronic disabilities. It was Sami's friends who got him out and treated his wounds.

Sami had to rest for a whole week before he could walk again. And in those days, no walking meant no hunting or gathering, which meant no food. It was during that week that Sami realized how powerless he can be from such a small accident he could not foresee. Proud of his superior ability, he kept cursing his luck for not being alert enough to have avoided that unfortunate fall.

Then a strong coughing fit interrupted his thoughts. The tribe's ailing chief was lying down not far from him, suffering from a fever and most probably a mortal disease. Sami can still remember how no man was match to the chief's physical strength or wisdom, before he had fallen seriously ill several weeks before. But there he was, lying down and being cared for by so many men and women, constantly visiting him and bringing him food, water, omens, and gifts; serving him in every way they can. That was Sami's epiphany, when he realized that no matter how many accidents he could have avoided with his natural talents, the day when he would need others was inevitable.

When Sami regained his health, he was a new man. He understood that his friends and family had been investing in him, so that when one day they need his help, Sami would be there for them, as they had for him.

Understand that in Sami's society, no one owes anyone. There is no debt in that social structure, and thus no sought-after compensation. Rather, it is much more like a collective insurance account which everyone owns and everyone pays their monthly premiums into - (helping others, sharing their food, and so on) but no one withdraws any profits (receive rewards) unless they were in need. And when one is, he won't even have to ask. Others would help him, because they know he would do the same for them when they are in need, for they, too, had been investing in the same insurance account. This is the origin of the universal proverb "a friend in need is a friend indeed."

2.3 - The Italian Restaurant (loyalty)

Take a modern Italian restaurant for example. You take the first bite of the $20 pizza you ordered and you realize there is something wrong - it's tasteless and hard to chew, as though it was reheated in a microwave. You call the owner/manager and cordially ask him, after explaining, to take the pizza off your table and off the bill. One of the following two scenarios ensues:

Scenario 1: The owner assures you that all their pizzas are fresh off the oven and that it is impossible to even dare serve a microwaved pizza at their prestigious restaurant. You remind him that you are a regular customer and that their pizzas have never tasted as bad as today. The owner apologizes for your discomfort but politely informs you that he can't take the pizza back and he certainly cannot take it off the bill.

Scenario 2: The owner apologizes and assures you that all their pizzas are fresh off the oven and that it is unimaginable that anyone would dare serve a microwaved pizza at their prestigious restaurant. He then immediately offers to serve you another fresh pizza, under his personal supervision, at no additional cost. You can't trust that it would be any better and so you say that you'd rather just cancel the order, and take the $20 off the check. The owner complies without hesitation. He comes back with the corrected check, as well as a piece of tiramisu for every guest at your table, free of charge, and promises you once again that, come your next visit, everything will be perfect.

In the first scenario, the short-sighted owner saw that taking the $20 off the check was clearly a loss. Moreover, chances are that that particular customer was never going to return to his restaurant anyway. Ironically, the owner's refusal to accommodate the customer's request is precisely why the customer never returned.

In the second scenario, the wise owner realized that by accepting a loss of $20, he would buy something much more profitable in the long-term: customer loyalty, the basis of a good reputation. Sure, there is a very small possibility that the customer would never return, but when compared to the profits of his much more probable return hundreds or even thousands of times throughout the coming years, the $20 is not a loss but an investment with expected high returns.

2.4 - Stag Hunt (Cooperation)

In this classical example of game theory, originally postulated by Genevan philosopher Jeanne-Jacques Rousseau, we imagine two individuals going out to hunt in the forest where they could either hunt a stag or a hare. To hunt a hare, a single hunter suffices. But to succeed in hunting a stag, the cooperation of both hunters is required. The only problem is neither hunter knows what the other one is going to choose.

As illustrated in the following diagram, if hunter X chooses to hunt a stag and hunter Z does the same, they could both share a stag (100 kg each). But if hunter X chooses to hunt a stag and hunter Z goes for the hare, X would get nothing. So from X's point of view, when choosing to go after a stag, he could either get 100 kg of meat or nothing. But if he goes for the hare, he would no longer be affected by Z's decision and would successfully get the hare, which is worth only 3 kg of meat. The same exact scenario would unfold if we were to look at it from hunter Z's choices.

In reality it doesn't take much time for both to realize that cooperating with one another is the best option for either one. This is the essence of the social and economic benefits of cooperation - it is clearly more beneficial than seeking the path of the lone wolf.

2.5 - Monkeys and Hazelnuts (Fairness)

Through experiments, scientists have found that monkeys will naturally choose to cooperate to achieve an objective that requires such cooperation. In one such experiment, two monkeys, F and P, are put in two compartments separated by a transparent barrier with a hole big enough to fit a monkey's arm. In one compartment is a container filled with six hazelnuts, sealed with a lid. In the other compartment is a flint (sharp stone). So P has the container of hazelnuts, but no flint to open it, and F has the flint but no access to the hazelnuts. After a short while, they both figure out what needs to be done. F offers P the flint through the barrier's hole, and P proceeds to puncture the lid with it. Once opened, P reaches into the container and gets all six hazelnuts out and lays them on the floor. Then seconds later, he picks up three of them and hands them over to F through the barrier hole. Even monkeys understand the concept of cooperation and fairness. See video.

2.6 - The Roundabout Stalemate (Altruism)

This is an example of a self-created traffic jam at roundabouts which should not exist if drivers simply follow the traffic rule of "give way." Because of short-sightedness, however, each driver is focused on taking the way. They rush out and block the cars circling the roundabout, which creates a ripple effect, causing all cars already circling the roundabout to hit their brakes and slow down. Then another driver repeats the same traffic violation of not giving way, and another, stronger ripple of brakes shoots out. Then other, more timid drivers who were patiently waiting their turn lose their patience and quickly realize that if they, too, do not violate the give-way rule, they would continue to lose their turn and get further delayed. Then a third and a fourth driver follow suit. Eventually everyone violates the rule as their turn comes up, until the last ripple effect causes traffic to come to a complete halt, like a cement mixer that stopped rolling until it all hardened up.

In the picture above, you can see that not a single car can move. This is when honking begins and the levels of frustration break through the air. Curses start darting across the intersection, each driver accusing the other of causing the cemented roundabout stalemate.

This is precisely the result of short-sighted selfishness. They seek for themselves instant gratification, instant rewards, and short-term profits, only to pay the price manifold in the damages they will have created for the entire society, themselves included!

Altruism is not some cute sentiment to recite in poetry. It is a fundamental value that raises the quality of life for everyone (as we will see in the following section), and in some cases, like the roundabout example above, it is necessary to accomplish the simplest of tasks: getting back home for supper. If every driver followed the rule of give-way, that is, give others what you want for yourself, everyone ends up getting what they want so much sooner, yourself included. Choose to ignore what the others want, and no one will get what they want, yourself included!

2.7 - Prisoner's Dilemma (Trust)

The prisoner's dilemma is probably one of the most famous examples of game theory. We have two men, suspects of a robbery, who have been arrested and interrogated by the police. The interrogating detectives have no solid evidence, so they try to elicit a confession from the suspects. In separate cells, the interrogators make the following offer to each of them: "Look, we know you two did it. And if you two choose to remain silent, you'll both be spending one year in prison. However, we'd like to cut you a sweet deal. If you cooperate with us and confess to the crime, we'll let you go free this very minute, while your uncooperative partner will get four years in prison. So just know that we're making him the same deal: if he confesses and you don't, he'll be let go free and you're the one who's gonna be locked up for four years." And the prisoner asks: "What if we both confess?" The detective answers: "Tough luck then, you'll both be doing three years of jail time. So what's it gonna be?"

Like in the stag hunt game, the real dilemma is that neither prisoner knows what his partner is going to do. Looking at the situation from prisoner V's point of view, as shown in the diagram above, if his partner confesses, then he'll either get three years (by confessing) or four years (by remaining silent). If his partner does not confess, he'll go free (if he confesses), or get locked up for a year (if he doesn't confess). In other words, whatever his partner chooses to do, V always gets the worse deal by not confessing. Choosing to confess, regardless of his partner's decision, obviously puts him in a better situation.

Economists refer to such a situation where you are better off choosing X regardless of your partner's choice a "dominant strategy." Thus, prisoner V chooses to confess, to have the least damage. Prisoner H, of course, makes the same exact reasoning and confesses as well; which would then put both of them in prison for three years (upper left box).

This, of course, is only true if we presumed that both V and H were driven by their individual, short-sighted self interests. But what would be the ideal choice if they both trusted each other; a trust based on some unbreakable social bond?

Suppose prisoner H was prisoner V's son. Now, V would not confess even if it led to his imprisonment for four years or even ten years, because what matters to him is his son's welfare. By being altruistic, he weighs his options not based on the consequences that will fall upon him, but upon his son: By refusing to cooperate with the detectives and remaining silent, his son would either go free or spend just one year in prison.

Likewise, the son, H, out of his love and respect for his father, would also remain silent and sacrifice himself as he cannot bear the thought of his father, the provider for his family, being behind bars. And so, by caring for the other more, they actually end up caring for themselves and unintentionally getting a much better result: they both get just one year, instead of the three years they would've gotten had they been purely selfish. This is the essence of all social values, which can be summarized by an ancient, universal golden rule, found in virtually every culture: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."6

There is, however, one last possible reasoning: In a virtuous society where individuals are connected by strong social bonds as seen above between son and father, it may occur to an immature V to confess and go instantly free, knowing that H would naturally hold onto the values they were both taught and refuse to confess, which would lead him to be thrown in jail for four years. V's short-sightedness would very quickly become apparent to himself as soon as he confronts the members of his virtuous society - the butcher, the barber, the waiter, the plumber, the blacksmith, the carpenter, the chef, the teacher, the doctor, and the rest - who will see him as a traitor and a low-life. They would refuse to have any dealings with him. And even if they don't expel him from their community, he would pack up and leave on his own.

As for H, upon his release four years later, he would become the hero of the town, served by the virtuous community without ever asking him for anything in return. Thus, in the virtuous society, V would have to be really stupid to even contemplate gaining anything by betraying his partner.

2.8 - Conclusion

It must be absolutely clear from all these examples that although these values and norms, which have developed over tens of thousands of years, appear to be designed to serve the group, they were - in fact - initially created to serve the individual! The benefits bestowed on the group are the byproduct. That is to say, the origin of altruism is in fact selfishness, or put another way, selfishness evolved through experience and maturity into altruism.

The origin of all behavior that society deems as "good" has its roots in the selfish desire of the individual to survive and thrive. Altruism, or selflessness, is the higher form of selfishness - you gain more for yourself by benefiting others; by being altruistic. But when someone seeks to benefit himself only, disregarding others, he actually ends up worse off, and most of the time he's too immature and shortsighted to realize it.


3 - The Illusion of Individual Success


3.1 - Glitter and First Class Passengers

Often we hear and see how poorer people tend to be generally friendlier and much more generous and caring than, say, the people who fly First Class. This phenomenon is not hard to explain. Poorer people are more prone to experience Sami's fall into the pit - stuck in a financial black hole, evicted from their homes, forced to borrow a few dollars just to afford a meal. They know what it feels like to be in dire need. So whenever they are able to help, they are automatically willing, because they have already figured out that one day they won't be able, and those around them who are able at the time could repay them for their past kindness. In other words, they understood what human beings, and even monkeys, have understood hundreds of thousands of years ago: generosity and friendship are necessary for survival.

That being said, there are some poor individuals in every unequal society who become blinded by so much resentment for their misfortunes that they can no longer see the true value of social insurance. And like our First Class passengers, they become blinded by the glitter of modern life, most notably advertisements. They begin to recognize their bus ride by the Nike and Ray-ban posters plastered on its sides, and recognize their bus stop by that gigantic iPad billboard overarching it. The desire to attain the unattainable grows stronger, till they decide one day to actively seek a legal way to climb up the social ladder, the steps of which are the shoulders of other people. They consciously decide to take advantage of anyone and everyone in order to have more material gains. They know this is how it works because they have experienced it firsthand; they can still see the black shoe marks on their shirt collars!

First Class passengers, of course, do not want to believe that their obscene wealth had been accumulated by climbing on people's shoulders. They refer to themselves as "successful" individuals. When we think of success, we think of Olympics gold medalists, World Cup winners, or honor students. The premise that is drawn is clear: you exercise hard enough, you win the gold medal; you study hard enough, you get straight A's; and you work hard enough, you make millions of dollars. This is all nice and dandy, until we look at a few facts.

First of all, unlike symbolic gold medals and score report cards, money is a unit of exchange. That is to say, the total amount of money in any country is nothing but a representation of all the goods and services that a country has produced. Money's worth is in its convertibility to those goods and services which have been produced and can be purchased. Printing more money would not make us richer, because no matter how much money we had, we can't buy goods and services which we have not produced. Thus, since the quantity of goods and services is limited, then so is the real quantity of money. So if we calculated the average income (i.e. the country's total income divided by the number of people) to be around $20,000 per year, and one of us was earning $10,000,000 per year, it necessarily means that there are other people who are making less than $20,000 per year. Hence, whenever the rich get richer, the poor would inevitably get poorer.

Second of all, if money was truly gained through hard work, are we supposed to understand that the man who earns $10,000,000 a year has actually produced $10,000,000 worth of goods, or provided $10,000,000 worth of services? Wal-Mart, for example, has 2.2 million workers, and it made $447 billion in revenues in 2012 (of which only $5.8 billion7 went to the 2.2 million workers it employs), while its net income that year was close to $16 billion, distributed on its shareholders who did not participate in any work involved in accumulating that income. Mike Duke, current President and CEO of Wal-Mart, has earned $18.7 million in that same year8. Did Mike Duke personally produce $18.7 million worth of goods and services that year?

The argument justifying CEOs and investors (people who are not directly involved in producing any goods or services) making huge incomes usually involves the claim that without them, the company's success would not have been possible. But even if we were to believe that, who decided that Mike Duke, for example, should be compensated over 1345 times what a full-time Wal-Mart employee makes, at minimum wage, in the same time period? Who decided that a man's vision is worth 1345 times the actual work involved in implementing that vision? Did the 2.2 million employees at Wal-Mart vote on this? As for the chairman and owner of Wal-Mart, Samuel Robson Walton, his net worth is estimated at $21 billion.

The owner of a company, referred to in economics textbooks as the entrepreneur (French for: idea man), by definition does no work whatsoever - Workers earn wages (or salaries), while entrepreneurs earn profits, and the two monetary compensations are in direct conflict with one another - the higher the wages, the smaller the profits, and vice-versa. Therefore, the entrepreneur has all the incentive to decrease wages to the absolute minimum (if he could hire slaves, he would). But the economic struggles of the late 1800s and early 1900s, culminating in Socialist and Communist revolutions in many parts of the world, and Roosevelt's New Deal in the US, imposed new laws against entrepreneurs, forcing them to pay minimum wage for maximum hours, to provide health care and pensions, among other responsibilities towards workers. An entrepreneur sees such laws as unfair, for they cut more out of his "hard-earned" profits.

The ultimate illusion, of course, is the belief that everyone can be as rich as private jet owners (never mind First Class passengers), if they only try hard enough. As shown above, that is simply impossible - someone has to clean the toilets! But in this interconnected, globalized world, where Sami's group jumped from six men to three billion men and women, it is very difficult to see how the "success" of a selfish individual is responsible for the suffering of many others.

A corporation fires 30,000 workers worldwide, stock owners celebrate their new fortunes as a result, while the ripple-effect of firing those workers continues to drill its way down into the abyss of human misery - unable to continue payments on their car loans, house mortgages, rent - leading to a general decrease in market demand due to the decrease in wages - eventually leading to economic collapse.

Governments then intervene, with the billions they had accumulated by taxing the poor, to save the economy and get it back up and running, only to watch it collapse again a decade later, because it is systematically designed to (economists refer to it as the economic cycle, which they wrongly presume to be a natural occurrence). And these crashes will continue to strike until we all somehow experience Sami's epiphany; realize that profits must be shared in order for societies to thrive, and then implement that realization.

3.2 - Sami's Epiphany Systemized

Examples of social insurance implemented systematically today include police departments, fire stations, national guards and armies, social security, retirement pensions, unemployment benefits, free health care, free medication, free education, financial regulations, public parks, roads, freeways, power grids, water and sewage systems, subsidized goods, environmental protection, and free housing for the poor.

Sami's epiphany requires institutionalization, if we were to continue to live in the modern, sophisticated society we have developed thus far. Instead of sharing his prey with his pack, Sami today shares his income with the rest of the nation through systematic contributions - taxes - the proportions of which are progressively determined based on the size of his income. Then all of the people's proportionate contributions are accumulated to fund the public goods and services just mentioned.

The immature citizen is unable to connect the dots to see that when every citizen has access to those basic needs, he himself benefits more. Instead, his short-sightedness can only reach as far as his bank account balance - he sees that the more money there is in it, the better off he is all around. He refers to taxes as a "burden," a "government theft," and "punishment for being successful." He sees that the harder he works and the more he earns, the more he is being punished (forced to pay a larger share of his income into taxes), whereas the jobless are idle and unproductive yet they receive welfare money, his money, to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Sami, on the other hand, had already overcome these delusions. By looking at the system at large, he realizes that it is designed to reward people unevenly for their work (no person is more idle and unproductive than an entrepreneur), and that with the advent of machinery and technology coupled with a growing population, the labor supply would always be in excess, which means even if every able citizen was actively searching for a job, there simply aren't enough jobs to go around for everyone.

Moreover, Sami understands that he is paying taxes not just to help others, but also to help himself and his loved ones. Sami had witnessed how his hard-working uncle was fired after the factory he worked at for 35 years had shut down, and how he struggled so much to find a job for years on end to no avail. He also remembers how his friend, the consultant for a huge software company, was fired after 20 years because, he was told, "business is slow." Sami's observations confirmed that everyone and anyone, including himself, could be next, at no fault of their own.

And the most important catch is: Sami understands that even if he never loses his job, never runs short on cash, and never become unable to afford to pay for education, health care, and so on, he still gladly makes those contributions for two reasons. First, he is buying his security, financial and non-financial, and peace of mind. Second, by helping everyone else through his contributions, the inevitable gap between rich and poor would be shrunk, which gives the less fortunate of us a greater purchasing power, which is what powers our whole economy, leading to a more equal, crimeless, and economically stable society.

Social values like respect, generosity, friendship, kindness, loyalty, cooperation, trust, love, compassion, forgiveness; the very components of systematic social insurance, may appear to be nothing more than voluntary charitable acts with no earthly rewards in sight. But if you live long enough and pay enough attention to how societies as well as individuals optimize their gains, you would see beyond any doubt that optimization cannot be achieved without those social values.

3.3 - When Vices Become Virtues

Since our values had predated civilization itself, it is only logical to assume that the virtuous society is the original society. It would not occur to anyone to cheat or lie to another member of the community because, back then, it was too obvious how such behavior would lead to a much worse outcome to all individuals, especially the sinner, who would be quickly expelled from the group.

Understand, then, that no society could nor would replace its virtues with vices, wholesale, unless corruption was systemic, i.e. comes from the top of the hierarchical structure of society. Thus, when an individual is cheated over and over again - with no overruling power to bring about justice, and no social order able to punish or thwart the criminal, they would eventually come to the conclusion that the only way to gain any benefits in such a corrupt society is to outsmart the criminal and become the bigger cheater, while virtues become nothing more than obsolete slogans used by the weak and helpless to sing hymns and to feel better about themselves. Backstabbing and corruption continue to rise, and the bigger sharks consolidate their powers into massive conglomerates in order to crush the smaller, rising sharks who are also trying to get a piece of the action.

Corruption starts when the immature, delusional citizen finds that pursuing vices clearly increases his bank account balance. He finds that being stingy with others, being dishonest when testifying to a policeman or a judge about a car accident he was partially responsible for, being unkind to his neighbors and relatives who always seem to want to borrow things from him, being disloyal to his customers by refusing to hear their reasonable complaints or replace their damaged goods, being untrusting of his business partners by always cheating them on profit and loss statements (to have them for lunch before they have him for dinner), being uncooperative within his community; all translate into savings and greater monetary rewards which he can directly link to that behavior.

But if he could zoom out to see the whole effect of his behavior, he would see that the people he cheated, lied to, or mistreated would soon learn that to gain monetary rewards they would have to emulate him! If he could zoom out a little more, he would see that when those vices are pursued by a large enough number of people in the society, life becomes excruciatingly unbearable.

We already know what that life looks like - the very marrow of society becomes infested with bribery, cheating, unfairness, lying, and special-interest connections. Every individual becomes wary of everyone else, his guard constantly up, ready to defend himself and outsmart the other liars and cheaters. You can clearly see this at the bus stop in the corrupt city, where heaps of people are pushing and shoving and using every possible trick to get ahead, instead of queuing up and respecting everyone else's turn.

The immature citizen who could not see further than his bank account balance will eventually get bitten back by the same corrupt system he participated in creating and sustaining. "The wheel of Karma grinds slowly but it does grind finely. And it makes complete circle."9

3.4 - The Godfather

Unfortunately, short-sighted individuals live their whole lives without ever experiencing Sami's epiphany. They never come to understand that selfishness and insatiability can only be maximized through selflessness and generosity. The truth is, by caring for others, you end up caring for yourself. By wanting good things to happen to others and actively seeking their comfort, you end up having good things happen to you. And in our modern society, this can only be achieved through systematic social insurance.

Even a mafia don understands the value of social insurance. In the opening scene of Mario Puzo's The Godfather, we find Amerigo Bonasera, an Italian immigrant, speaking to don Vito Corleone, the godfather, saying: "I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom, but I taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a boyfriend, not an Italian. She went to the movies with him, she stayed out late. I didn't protest. Two months ago he took her for a drive with another boy friend. They made her drink whisky and then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted; she kept her honor. So they beat her like an animal. When I went to the hospital her nose was broken, her jaw was shattered, held together by wire. She could not even weep because of the pain. But I wept. Why did I weep? She was the light of my life. Beautiful girl. Now she will never be beautiful again. I went to the police like a good American. These two boys were brought to trial. The judge sentenced them to three years in prison, and suspended the sentence. Suspended sentence! They went free that very day! I stood in the courtroom like a fool, and those two bastards, they smiled at me. Then I said to my wife, for justice, we must go to Don Corleone."

Godfather: "Why did you go to the police? Why didn't you come to me first?"
B: "What do you want of me? Tell me anything! But do what I beg you to do."
G: "And what is that?"
Bonasera whispers into the don's ear.
G: "That, I cannot do."
B: "I'll give you anything you ask."
G: "We've known each other for many years, but this is the first time you come to me for council; for help. I don't remember the last time you invited me to your house for coffee, even though my wife is the godmother to your only child. But let's be frank here, you never wanted my friendship. And you were afraid to be in my debt."
B: "I didn't want to get into trouble."
G: "I understand. You found paradise in America, had a good trade, made a good living, police protected you and there are courts of law. You don't need a friend like me. But now you come to me and say 'Don Corleone give me justice.' But you don't ask with respect. You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me Godfather. Instead you come into my house on the day my daughter's to be married and you ask me to do murder for money."
B: "I ask for justice."
G: "That is not justice. Your daughter is still alive."
B: "Then make them suffer as she suffers. How much shall I pay you?"
G: "Bonasera, what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you'd come to me with friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you."
B: "Be my friend... Godfather?"
G: "Good. Some day, and that day may never come, I would like to call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter's wedding day." (watch video here).


1 - Other peoples made the same discovery independently at later dates (the Egyptians, 7000 BC; the Chinese, 5000 BC; et al).
2 - The first city was Jericho, in Palestine - 9000 BC.
3 - "Politics" comes from the Greek word polis "city" and politika "city matters"
4 - From Maslow's Pyramid: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs
5 - By no means is this comparison meant to judge which path was more superior. There are very strong arguments that suggest that humanity would have been much better off had we never discovered farming. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle, some argue, is much more in-synch with - and more respectful towards - nature than civilization and modernity.
6 - This proverb is not to be mistaken for "you scratch my back I scratch yours." The former is a form of social insurance with no expectations for reward, while the latter is based on instant or semi-instant exchange of benefits of seemingly equal value. So if someone invites you for lunch and buys you gifts with the intention of asking you a favor in return, it's got nothing to do with social insurance and the universal golden rule explained above.
7 - Five Year Financial Summery. (2011). Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Available at http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/104169/000119312511083157/dex13.htm Accessed May 27, 2012
8 - Forbes Magazine online. (2011). CEO Compensation. Available at: http://people.forbes.com/profile/michael-t-duke/85306 Accessed May 27, 2012
9 - Delora, V. (1969). Custer Died for Your Sins. Pg 100.