Yo’ Ma Bitch: Towards A Unified Terminology

Instead of learning solely about the civic institutions that form the outer shell or façade of human politics, pol-sci students ought perhaps to be taught about the heart of the matter, the bottom-line, the universal core principle of all human societies larger than the hunter-gatherer band: namely the relationship between patron and client. I would venture to suggest that humans actually have no instinctive understanding of the free market, because our only psychological paradigm is master and servant, or king and subject.

It does not help that the same principle is known by different names in different periods and different contexts, whether by the Roman labels, whether by the Roman labels, the Byzantine prounikoi or “burden-bearers”, the Islamic mawla, the arcane vocabulary of feudalism, the cant of organised crime and convicts, the Russian “roof” (protection), the Thai dualism of senior and junior, the traditional “sides of industry”, the business-administration smokescreens like “mentoring”, modern sociological terms like “informal networks”, or the African simplicity of “big man”.

The word “lord” is a descendant of the Old English for “Loaf-Giver”; and “lady” likewise. This makes the nature of the relationship very clear. Other words for a superior, such as “Master”, the linguistic family of “Don”, “Dom” and “Dame”, and to some extent “boss”, all derive from slave-holding. Yet other terms for lordship are variants on army leadership, such as “Herr” and “voivode”; and on seniority, such as the linguistic family of “seigneur”, (whence “Monsieur” and “Sir”), “señor”, “signore” and so forth, plus “sheikh”. This tells us all we need to know about the basic – or perhaps sole – human relationship, namely dominance: one man grows old in the leading of armies, thus accumulating loaves to give to other men.

For this reason we ought not to assume that the Lord was always an entirely hated slavemaster. The element of loaf-giving reappears in a term of the pre-revolutionary French regime emphasised in Simon Schama: the père-nourricier. Much of the Revolution, he argues, was an attempt to return to this pre-modern relationship of being looked after, very much in opposition to the terror and isolation of free market. Socialism, it might appear, is then the yearning for the nourishing father.

Peripheral peoples such as the Norwegians labour under the misapprehension that they missed out on feudalism, that they were always a nation of free farmers with no aristocracy. In fact most cultivators were crofters, and the allodial farmers from whom they leased were in effect a landed nobility. They had no fancy titles and would not greatly have impressed a French aristocrat with their wealth and culture, but they played the same role in their own little duckpond. It was precisely the same social structure of patron and client, merely at a much lower material and cultural level.

A project to unify the terminology might coordinate the words we use for organised crime on the one hand, and service to a patron or employer on the other. I am given to understand that biker gangs have full members, and also affiliates under their protection. When S. M. Stirling wrote of a new feudal order arising from total and sudden social collapse (his novels of “The Change”), the ruling class being a fusion of SCA re-enactors with motorcycle gangs, he knew exactly what he was doing. I wonder whether he knew that old London slang for the territory of a criminal band was “manor”? Moreover, those men who in the Stuart period supported Buckingham were described as “made”. Can this be the origin of the American Mafia expression, “a made man”? If not, it must be a case of parallel evolution, an inherently obvious way of describing the beneficiary of patronage.

All rule involves the distribution of largesse. The only question in politics is therefore how wide should be the circle of recipients; that is, whether the common people should benefit as well as the magnates. Another way of expressing this might be to ask how many levels below the magnate should patronage extend – directly to his immediate entourage, or indirectly all the way to the bottom? An approach to a truly universal theory of societies might therefore be: in any given period, how many man-years does it take to support your nearest magnate, whatever he might call himself?

The baseline of human life is that every one of us is one of three things: a predator, in service to the predators, or farmed by the predators. Or to put it another way, some of us are players and the rest serve the players in return for various combinations of food, protection and promotion. End of story. Foxes eat hens but hens do not eat foxes.

Posted on May 8, 2012 at 10:09 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE ENSLAVING MAMMAL, The Universal Template

Leave a Reply