Master and slave morality is not much more than the alpha/beta positioning of primates on a dominance hierarchy. Master morality comes naturally to primates at the top of a dominance hierarchy, and slave morality comes naturally to those at the bottom. This essay makes an argument for the inevitability of a horrific future world, in which slave morality has come to dominate.
The relentless growth of our societies has led to a problem, and it’s getting worse. Increasing medicinal technology means more people survive to reproductive age, and the world population has swollen. The larger the dominance hierarchy becomes, the greater the number of subordinate positions – but the number of dominant positions doesn’t really increase, because ultimately there is only one of those. This means that, as a dominance hierarchy grows in number, it gets extended past the bottom.
If you are in a war party of 15 men, you have a small but real chance of being the ultimate authority yourself, and if you are not then you could easily become such by displaying greater competence or courage than the other 14. If you are in a tribe of 150 people, you have less than a 1% chance of being the ultimate authority, and now it’s probably not just a matter of fighting ability but also of intelligence, which you may or may not possess. If you are in a clan of, say, 1,500 people, you have essentially no chance. The clan will have a chieftain, and that position is probably hereditary.
Groups of 1,500 people were extremely rare before agriculture enabled large populations to settle down. When this happened, however, it became possible for there to be people who had essentially no chance of ever being at the top of the dominance hierarchy – no matter their personal qualities. Once there were city-states of 15,000 people or more, contesting the dominance hierarchy became so complicated and so sophisticated that it became its own specialised endeavour, and we called this politics, and the people who practiced it politicians.
Slave morality, as Nietzsche recounted in The Genealogy of Morals, came about when some of the people who had no hope of getting off the bottom of the dominance hierarchy became so resentful that they started to extol the personal qualities that had landed them there. There is no slave morality in a war band of 15 men, because anyone sufficiently strong can get to the top. In a city of 1,000,000 – especially when many are literal slaves captured in war – slave morality is commonplace, and this is why degeneracy inevitably follows.
One problem with the modern world is that this basic dominance hierarchy is now so extensive, being global and comprised of billions, that it’s no longer contestable.
If I, as a New Zealander, wanted to overturn my local dominance hierarchy, I would be presented with a number of great problems. First of all, I would have to overcome the power of the local Police forces to keep the peace and to maintain their version of order. This would require at least a dozen men armed with automatic rifles who were willing to use them in defence of whatever ideology I was offering. Finding a sufficiently persuasive ideology would be extremely difficult.
Even if one succeeded here, another task would arise. The problem with overwhelming the local Police is that the New Zealand Government, upon recognising that the Police were insufficient, would send in the Army. This would involve, potentially, a regiment of riflemen with machineguns and close air cover. Defeating a force like this would require a vast amount of territory and population. An area at least the size of Canterbury would be necessary.
Even if one succeeded here, i.e. even if the New Zealand Army was unable to bring you to submission, your actions in fending them off would be considered a civil war. It turns out that the British armed forces are constitutionally obliged to intervene in the case of a civil war in New Zealand – New Zealand is, after all, ultimately a possession of the Crown (like Britain itself).
So getting that far up the dominance hierarchy would mean that you have to come to terms with a naval power that has submarines that carry over a dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles each. Outside of a fantasy novel, this has no chance of happening.
Therefore, more people inevitably means more resentment, as it means more people who can never get to the top. In a system the size of ours, the prospect of any self-direction is minimal, and therefore resentment has become the natural state of affairs. Some moral values, in particularly the value of inclusiveness and diversity, have become normalised on account of this shift to slave morality.
What this has meant is the rise and rise of slave morality. Where there used to be a small and resentful underclass, the proportion of people who effectively have no chance of rising to the top of the dominance hierarchy now comprises the vast bulk of our society. The actual rulers are selected from a minuscule sliver of the population, and the number of people that these rulers actually listen to is also tiny. Encompassing this tiny number are heaving masses who essentially have no say at all in the destinies of their group.
As the populations of cities continue to surge, this wave of increasing slave morality will only grow in fervour. Already we have seen the socially corrosive effects of mass resentment on our culture. Current trends suggest that the human population will continue to expand, and cities will continue to absorb the excess, which means that slave morality will become ever more the default way of dealing with things.
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