I’ve spent six years now traveling throughout Western Europe, also reading histories of western civilization…from earliest prehistory to modernity. I’ve but scratched the surface, I know…an adequate appreciation would require a lifetime. But even with my limited exposure, there is one theme I see virtually taken for granted rather than deeply explored: social stratification, class and the distribution of power and wealth. The effects have been hugely studied: feudalism, the French Revolution, colonialism and imperialism, capitalism and Marxism and communism, slave revolts, American civil rights, even in budding movements like Occupy Wall Street within the U.S. today. And the recent election in the U.S. is no less a reflection of its continuing dominance.
But I want to know the when, the how and the why: When, how and why did differentiation and stratification by income and social status begin? What are its drivers? Why has it been so ubiquitous throughout history, and why have the less empowered classes accepted it so readily? And what’s more, why throughout history have those in power so insistently treated their “lessers” like dirt…and why do the underprivileged so readily put up with it?
This seems indeed a ubiquitous theme throughout all recorded history, and not just in the West…Ancient Egypt, the Middle East, the Orient, India all did the same. A cursory consideration would suggest it arose in the Neolithic with the onset of agriculture and the availability of surplus resources. But that seems a cop out…the seeds are there as early as the origins of language and religion, and more than likely, buried within our evolutionary psyches as some instinctual drive towards social organization even at a tribal level. But what would those be? How did they play out in aboriginal societies? And how and when did they evolve into the drastically disparate societies evidenced since the Pharos? Why did even Marxism and Communism, the great experiments in egalitarianism, quickly degrade into the Orwellian world where some were “more equal than others?” Why do the lower classes put up with it when they could end it virtually overnight in a simple paroxysm of anarchical rage.
All this seems like an excellent thesis for a multidisciplinary degree in economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology and history. Hmmm…