Rebirth of Reason


Two Worldviews - The Trader and Taking Syndromes
by A. Robert Malcom

Jane Jacobs, in Systems of Survival, points out that there are only two methods of survival. In addition, she points out that humans are unique in possessing both -- all other animals have only one. The first method is the one common to all animals, the agonic way of responding to strangers: to take what is wanted -- just simply to take it, depending, of course, on not only what is available to be taken, but on the difficulty in obtaining it. The second method is the unique one of humans: the capacity of being able to trade -- to exchange goods and services for other goods and services, depending again, on what is available. This method is unique -- it is non-coercive, with trading done by voluntary agreement, with mutual assent. Indeed, that is the central essence of trading, and the trading mentality. There is yet another aspect to note -- it is the other major expression of the eccentricity of the aquatic ape, for it is an expression of dealing as equals, more or less, and not as members of a hierarchy. Which is to say trading is done, primarily, individual to individual.

These two methods of survival are, as Jacobs notes, fundamentally different outlooks on life. As such, they have profoundly different consequences. Originating in very different contexts, these outlooks each evolved into a set of syndromes that encompass a whole range of notions congruent with each particular view of the world. To better understand these syndromes, I list their components as Jacobs has them -- along with, in parentheses, addenda of my own.

The Trading Syndrome [Individualist virtues]

Shun force                      
Come to voluntary agreements
Be honest
Collaborate easily with strangers
Respect contracts
Use initiative and enterprise                 
Be open to inventiveness and novelty               
Be efficient             
Promote comfort and convenience  
Dissent for the sake of the task
Invest for productive purposes
Be industrious
Be thrifty
Be optimistic

The Taking Syndrome [Tribal virtues]

Shun trading
Exert prowess
Be obedient and disciplined
Adhere to tradition
Respect hierarchy
Be loyal
Take vengeance
Deceive for the sake of the task
Make rich use of leisure
Be ostentatious
Dispense largesse
Be exclusive
Show fortitude
Be fatalistic
Treasure honor

These are lists of virtues that Jacobs found were esteemed throughout the centuries, moral precepts beyond those considered as universal in all walks of life. These precepts were divided this way because specific ones were observed to be repeatedly associated with others -- consider, for instance, loyalty with obedience and respect for hierarchy, or industriousness with thrift and efficiency. The precepts, in other words, came in clusters -- and the clusters overlapped. Combining the overlaps resolved the clusters into the two syndromes.

Note that neither list is internally contradictory. Each has, in effect, its own integrity. Note, too, that each syndrome is opposed to the other -- there are two separate sets of moral values being expressed here. Since these virtues have been esteemed since before historical times (they were already in place at the beginning of recorded history, and are even found in the legends about times before recorded history), they must be considered as having strong survival value, or as having had survival value at one time.
One of the things which Jacobs did not notice (or chose to ignore) is that each syndrome lists virtues of either individualism or tribalism, (hence my addenda). Likewise, she made no notice that these syndromes are outgrowths of the agonic and hedonic modes of social structures. This latter note is very important because, the recognition that the agonic evolved into the taking syndrome, and the hedonic into the trading, marks the understanding that civilization is indeed the process whereby man is freed from man -- that is, the development of the sense of the individual as apart from the group, to the ultimate recognition that the human world is composed of individuals only, and that a group is merely an aggregate of individuals because individuals are, by their nature all different from each other.
What kind of conjectures, then, can be made about these ancient societies -- what can be said about the kind and quality of life enjoyed by the societal members? A trader society, for one, is a peaceful society -- as the syndrome indicates, they "shun force." Archaeological evidence backs up this assertion. Trader cities did not have fortifications, walls built around to keep out the unwanted and protect those within. There was no evidence of the implements of massive war, such as shields and so forth, that would have been used by soldiers -- in other words, there were no standing armies. What weaponry was there was more of a defensive kind utilized more for hunting than anything else. There was, of course, a basic reason for this -- warfare, being destructive, disruptive, and an impetus for theft, is not good for trade.

Trading emphasizes trust, which is an offshoot of honesty. It is non-coercive because there must be a continual series of voluntary agreements, else there'd be no trading -- and this also requires respect for contracts. The contacts and stimulus with others of different cultures allows an openness to inventiveness and novelty, to newness and difference for that expand the market.

The virtues listed by Jacobs in the trading syndrome arose out of practical necessity (just as did the virtues listed in the taking syndrome ... each list contains the major attributes required to maintain the respective syndromes). The trading societies began as matters of practicality, without much thought to possible theories, only the empirical evidence that trading worked better and was, for more persons, more rewarding than theft. Wealth, creative wealth, came from trading, in a sum-plus series of situations. It was, in other words, an obvious choice. And it is possible that it never occurred to anyone that there might be a need to justify it, especially in the light of its being around as part of the matriarchal lineage for several millennia. Moreover, it was a rational endeavor, a mindful notion, which needed not be argued with another because of its obviousness, and could not be argued with the mindlessness of the barbarians encountered in the outlying areas of the trading influence, because those barbarians were, for the most part, little more than human animals, limited as such to not much more than the range of the moment.
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