Generations ago we traded our ability to support ourselves off the land for the coordinated, collective action known as The State. We traded this ability for the collective gain in productive power so that we could benefit from the bounty of this increase known as the division of labor. This trade came with an obligation from The State to provide for us. It is not possible for a contemporary human to survive off the land. A contemporary human does not in fact own enough land to survive. Because of this we are in fact entitled to support for our survival. The existence of The State makes the phrase an Nanny State an oxymoron. All nations are Nanny States.
We are entitled to support in the same way that a fish is entitled to water, a bird to air, a contemporary man to his Nanny State. Our greatgreatgrandmother’s gave away our ability to support ourselves long before we were born to The State. The State, in turn, must make certain that we have food, shelter, and education. In the United States this contract is the promise of the Constitution and includes the slightly weird concept of “the pursuit of happiness,” not happiness itself, but its pursuit. You can chase it if you want. Happiness I suppose is the carrot. Unhappiness is the stick. But any threat of starvation or denial of anything else at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy is breaking the contract.
If The State breaks this basic provision of food, water, shelter, health care, personal security, privacy, education, and the time and freedom to make and maintain social bonds then The State has broken its contract and should provide you with the ability to do this for yourself. So at my age that means the basic survival of my family will cost about 2 million dollars (with education and health care being completely covered on top of that). This figure came from the The Self Sufficiency Calculator for Washington State.
If The State fails to honor this agreement, than the agreement would seem to be null, and yet the void of no state — the appeal of zombie narratives, Mad Max, and other end of the world narratives — is another world and one that in which we are not designed to survive. Even in these myths the survivors end up like maggots surviving on the corpse of The State and the only way that the survivors survive is by creating a new state.
Why would anyone want to void the existence of The State? We traded our ability to take care of ourselves for the reality of cooperative action and the effecinces of the division of labor. The State does not have ability to restore us to our condition before this trade. It is merely a myth to think that we could return to what we were before The State. As a species we have been altered forever by The State.
If I were you right now to give you a parsec of land, like the Romans did to their citizen soldiers, could you turn that land into a living? Of course not. In America, only a libertarian nostalgic for a golden aged pioneer world that never quiet was would yearn for such a thing.
I guess I’m speaking of this thing known as the social contract. The social contract despite it sounded legal is not really a legal document but rather an underpinning of the social order. It describes something that is fairly primal, like, if you kill someone you have wronged them. In the same way, if The State does not honor the implied agreement in the social contract, then it has wronged you. If it has wronged enough people they will form a state that will honor the social contract with them.
It is interesting to me that existing states attempt to define the terms of state legitimacy. It seems to be that legitimacy of any state depends on the citizens of the state enlisting in citizenship to the state. A state can exist with or without the recognition of its statehood by existing states. A state is the phenomena of collective action, support, the division of labor, and the distribution of resources. It does not exist in some Plutonic sense. Its reality is real because its citizens act to support its existence.
One definition of the state is an entity with that posses a monopoly on legitimate violence. In most cases violence, for instance, is seen as illegitimate or illegal, and yet The State often uses violence. The police can use violent force. The Army can blow up buildings and people. Individuals operating outside of state sanctioned roles who possesses the right to use violence are criminals. A criminal might be defined as an individual who assumes the unsanctioned rights of The State: if you have your own flag, are you a criminal?
One way in which violence is legitimate is when a people are starving and need to survive. For instance if they were to take land and begin to farm it, and they were to take food to eat, the entity that coordinated this activity and this division of labor would become its own state. The only entity to object to starving people stealing food, through violence if necessary, would be a counter state that lays claim to those people and the state from whom the starving people are stealing food. What is this entity called that would deprive humans of their means for survival? It is still a state. Stalin inflicted violence using the apparatus of The State. And yet as soon as a state deprives human beings of the basic elements of survival the state has made itself illegitimate.
All humans are entitled to the basic elements of survival from any State; it would seem then that all states must have the ability to incorporate non-citizens into the state, fold in their labor, and distribute to them the resources of the state. If a state cannot do this, then the state would lose its legitimacy. A state that cannot provide for humans is a state that is stealing from them. The state is as good as stealing from their forefathers for however many generation they have entered into the social contract with The State.
Yet somehow we have changed the basic terms to an idea that we live in an essentially stateless society organized not by collective division of labor but by the market itself. This was not however the agreement we entered into generations ago. It does not reflect the social contact.
Such a situation would resemble a massive pick up game where we are all on a massive field. The corporations come down and pick their team. It would be in their interest to suppress wages not to pick everyone. (After all our own collective productivity can be used against us; they know that collectivity we can do more work than they need us to do anyway.) So they choose who they would like and of course with the embarrassment of riches pick the people they “like” and leave the rust of us stumpy and perhaps churlish lot on the field to starve.
The chosen people have the status of being chosen. They are become invested in the system, and gain resourced distributed by the system. Their compliance is supported by the carrot of a pursuit of happiness and the stick of being cast from the system into a world where they cannot survive, that is the pursuit of misery.
At that time when we had the capability of surviving without the division of labor, we would say, fuck that, and many of us would just go do something other than play this stupid game. We would grow our malt and wheat and drink our beer and do our may pole dances and what have you. Screw industrialization.
If we divided equally the capital produced by the people of the United States, poverty would be no more and neither would wealth.
But that was never really in the cards. A few people who made this trade made better trades since they are the owners. And the rest of us are the producers; nonetheless, this system has proven to be dynamic, productive of wealth, and destructive to our planet. While we are now facing the downside of progress and generations of productivity (as in mass species extinction and global warming) on the whole this system has produced a highly mobile and less caste-based social system than our previous farming economies. It is less organic than our hunter-gather forbearers but they didn’t have Twitter, so we can call it a draw.
The system as it still still lends itself toward social stratification. At the top are a few enormously wealthy families, at the bottom are a large number of disenfranchised. In the upper middle is the churn of producers, the people who must work to make the system work. They must work to put in their lot into the collective labor pool that is a result of the division of labor. The fruit of the pool is more productivity as a whole than what we would produce separately. The fruit for the top families is wealth that would could not be conceived by Charlemagne or the richest feudal emperor. The fruit for the producers has been up until this generation a gradually increasing standard of living that in fact rivaled the quality of lives of feudal lords under the previous Agrarian system. And we were capable of taking care of even our disenfranchised to a degree; although we have always had trouble with the people who opt out of the entire division of labor thing. Technically they should be people who have dissolved membership to the State and live like wild deer or something. They are a problem and will always be. In Brave New World these are The Wild Men.
To even talk about The State as an entity smacks of socialism. And yet the concept of our belonging to a state, such as I am a citizen of the United States, is more of a feature of my being an individual than my gender. We are all members of states.
While this may sound like a socialist proposition, it is larger than a pure ‘ism’ and speaks directly to the function of The State and our roles as citizens of the state. For nearly all of us, including farmers, we work jobs that do not produce something that we can directly survive on. The collective effort divided as it is were produces such an efficiency in the United States, and in fact the world, that the production of food or extraction of natural resources is in fact not the worry for the survival of humanity. Distribution of this surplus is a problem blocked as it is by political and economic walls. But the vast majority of us, in particularly in the post-industrial economies, work such abstract jobs that we would be utterly helpless without The State. We may not be entitled to a job, but are then entitled to 2 million dollars. I think most states would rather we work for it.