The Predator Culture: The Systemic Roots and Intent of Organised Violence

The Predator Culture: The Systemic Roots and Intent of Organised Violence

by Fred Harrison

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Fred Harrison draws on global-wide case studies to show how the violent birth of nation-states, whether the result of territorial conquests or colonialism, splits the population into two classes, victors and vanquished. This division is perpetuated and legitimated through the system of land tenure. The pathological consequences – as diverse as failed states,…  See more details below


Fred Harrison draws on global-wide case studies to show how the violent birth of nation-states, whether the result of territorial conquests or colonialism, splits the population into two classes, victors and vanquished. This division is perpetuated and legitimated through the system of land tenure. The pathological consequences – as diverse as failed states, organised crime (mafia), religious fundamentalism and the re-emergence of piracy – are the result of the violent uprooting of the original inhabitants from their homelands. Understanding the territorial basis of political power and wealth is the pre-requisite, Fred Harrison argues, for making sense of issues as diverse as genocide, narco-gangsterism, terrorism and fascism. The struggle over land and resources, he contends, is at the root of all of today’s global crises. Some attempts are being made to restore land to those in need, ranging from the offer of land in Afghanistan to the Taliban as an inducement to set aside their violent strategies, to the sharing of the rents of oil in Nigeria to entice eco-warriors into mainstream politics. But these piecemeal tactics fail to synthesise the conditions for peace and prosperity. The Predator Culture provides a framework for truth and reconciliation in what has become a violent world that is slipping dangerously out of control.

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The Predator Culture

The Roots and Intent of Organised Violence

By Fred Harrison

Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd

Copyright © 2010 Fred Harrison
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85683-326-7



TO differentiate from other species – to gain a selective advantage over the control of resources – homo sapiens had to find a way of escaping from the iron laws of nature. Instincts – those laws in action – had to be complimented with, and where possible modified by, rules of behaviour that gave rise to culture.

In achieving this mission, humans accomplished something unique. A new dimension was added to the life processes on Earth. If Gaia is viewed as organic life in the biosphere, humans added the spiritual, intellectual and aesthetic dimensions that melded with nature to deliver the power to create. The interaction between humans and nature's resources made possible the overlaying of culture on the landscape.

To realise their creative potential, however, humans had to formalise the relationship with nature to make life possible beyond subsistence levels of existence. The crafting of the rules governing that relationship with land – the rights of tenure – was the primary contract on which everything else depended for humankind's journey through time and space.

Nature may be defined as the laws that enabled life to originate and differentiate into species, and for those species to co-exist within shared ecological niches. For species to survive, the biological rules had to ensure that life-sustaining resources were not depleted. Predators, for example, should not be wilful, wasteful destroyers of life. The limits on killing – on violent behaviour in general – should be constrained by reproductive need rather than by unchecked avarice. Feeding off the available life-generating resources had to be kept proportionate to the carrying capacity of stocks within the ecological niche. The biologically-based instincts which secure this balance were wrapped up in what ethologists call territoriality.

Humans as territorial creatures instinctively knew how to distribute their numbers in a balanced way to secure their ability to penetrate deep into evolutionary timescales. The universe they fashioned on Earth – the social universe – depended on the capacity to develop traditions which symbolically fused with, and then superseded, biological instincts. This gave humans a greater range of opportunities. Unlike the rules inherent in DNA-based instincts, the rules of culture were plastic. They could be adapted to meet the opportunities offered by new habitats, first as a result of extensive migration around the globe, then by the intensive use of resources on the home territory, through the advances of knowledge and technology. Early migratory groups, as they evolved into clans and tribes and settled on new territories, defined rules that secured a nurturing relationship with their habitats. This enabled them to peel back ever more layers of nature's riches, to expand the range of lifestyles.

Land rights, which determine the primary relationships, established the ethos of cooperation between individuals at both the material and social levels. The learning process was enriched through the interaction of biological need and the expansion of the universe of the mind that was nourished by the belief in life beyond the confines of Earth. The fusion of the material potential of the ecological niche with spiritual awareness expanded the opportunities within the social universe (Figure 1.1).

Humans continued to share their characteristics with other species. The differences were of degree, in terms of emotions, moral behaviour, the facility to create and use tools, the ability to deceive. But humans were a breed apart because of the capacity to contemplate, anticipate the outcomes of their actions, and articulate ideas that expanded the social universe beyond the material. They understood that there was the "greater good", and the supernatural. Thus, uniquely, humans created the concepts of religion, spirituality, and secular socialbehaviour grounded in a moral framework. This singular facility required a unique imagination. It was central to the terms on which humans distributed themselves through space, by securing the veneration of nature and equalising the access rights of individuals within the bands that roamed in search of new habitats. This spatial distribution fostered equality between people, rather than locking them into an hierarchical relationship. Egalitarianism was derived from the biological past but enshrined in the cultural future.

The structure of this social universe was comprised of three parts. First, the household economy was designed to meet biological needs. From gathering and hunting, and then growing food, people became conscious of the laws of nature. The scientific method (empiricism) was incubated within a folklore framework. Secondly, the social structure: lives were embedded within a formal system of traditions and rules that governed the behaviour of the individual within the group. The third dimension was culture, which encompassed the aesthetics of the new universe.

Culture in its content and scope varied to reflect the accessible resources. But the general rules remained consistent even as humans fanned out around the globe on their journey of discovery. The non-negotiable philosophy underpinning the rules was the one that regulated interaction with Earth. As collective consciousness evolved – with the deepening of morality and intelligence – so culture could be expanded. But at no point could humans abandon their reliance on the integrity of the tenurial customs and laws that regulated their relationship with Earth. When they transgressed those rules, they paid a terrible price – extinction. At all times, they needed to refine ancient wisdom to keep pace with the accumulating knowledge and technologies that expanded the reach of the social universe.

The Components of Social Labour

The key element in the evolution from tribal formations to the earliest urban-based civilisations was the differentiation of the products of labour into their functional uses. The classical concepts of economics may be applied to classify the processes that culminated in achievements such as the city civilisations of Mesopotamia.

The household economy functioned as a self-supporting unit. A share of its product was retained to secure inter-generational survival. The reproductive function shaped the family life-cycle. The "wages" of labour defined the potential for differentiation within the groups, resulting in increasingly complex inter-personal relationships, roles for individuals (elders and spiritual leaders) and personal aspirations. Flowing from these interactions emerged the individual's morality, increasingly intense co-operation, and the formation of complex associations outside the household unit.

With settlement and the onset of pastoralism and agriculture, occupational specialisation flowed out of the accumulation of capital (cattel, derived from cattle), and the conceptualisation of an accumulation that we now call "interest". Specialisation led to increasingly sophisticated technology and rituals that enriched workplace associations (such as guilds).

Culture synthesised the potential of people and their technologies, facilitating the innovations in the religious life, secular authority and the arts. Spiritual life found its expression in the early paintings and carvings on rock faces; and the arts and sciences of production led to the reconfiguration of the landscape, real or imagined. The earliest city-civilisations remained egalitarian, their monuments reaching up to the heavens, celebrations of the religious or "other" life. These were funded out of the surplus which was worked out of Earth, resulting from the varying potential of each location for generating wealth, which we now call "rent".

Civilisation was possible because people agreed to disaggregate the product of their labour. That part which was consumed as wages or reinvested as interest – to reproduce themselves and their working tools – was distinguished from the surplus needed to nourish the cultural life. Culture was possible because of the capacity to both produce a surplus and to reserve it for the common welfare. Today, we ascribe to that surplus the technical term economic rent (which we here designate as rent). People endowed their spiritual leaders with this rent to construct the monuments that expressed their spirituality. Priests were relieved of the need to work in the fields or workshops, to provide the sacred leadership that communities created to serve their well-being. It was within the temples that the skills of writing, counting and public administration originated, that would make possible the modern nation-state and the global economy. Thus, civilisation was possible because rents were reserved as the material means for the advance of increasingly sophisticated social organisation. This model was the template used on all continents.

The social universe was constructed on the reverence for Earth, and the willingness to abide by rules that secured everyone's right of access to the riches of nature. This combination made possible the deployment of a community's surplus to fund the expansion of social and religious activities. But these civilisations remained experiments in evolution, for they failed to sustain themselves. About 30 civilisations have been buried by the sands of time. Understanding why they ultimately failed may enable our civilisation to avoid (or at least postpone) a similar terminal fate.

Some civilisations disappeared because they abused their primordial contract with nature. By over-exploiting the resources on which they relied, they depleted rather than conserved nature. They failed to align themselves with the reproductive capacity of land. Social life withered, along with the dependent culture. But there was another major reason for the breakdown of civilisations. The violent separation of parts of the population from land proved fatal. Once consolidated into a large-scale process, communities divided by exclusion (as a result of attributing exclusivity to the use of land for the benefit of a minority) were locked into a vertical structure: a hierarchy. Some individuals were designated as superior to others, not on the basis of personal attributes, but because of their exceptional claims on nature, or the surplus product generated by the people who worked on the land. That unnatural arrangement – constructed on a savage infringement of people's natural rights – could only be sustained by building violence into the foundations of society. We do not tolerate such violence on the sporting field (see Box 1:1), but we have come to accept it in our daily lives. And that is because we have lost our sense of the unnaturalness of those rules, which generate the pathologies of the capitalist way of life.

The Pathology of Capitalism

CIVILISATIONS deployed policies that made possible enormous advances in the production of wealth. And yet, the monumental achievements of a Rome collapsed under the onslaught of pre-civilised groups armed with primitive technologies. We need to bear such cases in mind as we describe the nature of our civilisation.

The defining characteristics of capitalism are not money, or markets, or energy-mobilising technologies. These existed in pre-capitalist societies. The distinctive characteristic of capitalism is its dualism. Embedded in it are two distinct cultures, each with its social and economic laws and processes. One of them (Culture I: the Predators) depends upon the other (Culture II: the Producers). The Predator culture is parasitic on the Producers. How they were fused, made to co-exist, is central to understanding the institutionalisation of violence as a social process.

Culture I: The Predators

SHARING Earth was the pre-condition for releasing the latent talents of each individual, to create the fusion of creative energy that secured the intellectual and spiritual leaps into the new (social) universe. But over the past 500 years there evolved an organisational structure that transgressed this primary principle of human evolution.

Figure 1.3 provides an overview of the structure of power and property. Most people are represented as excluded from the riches of Earth. A significant portion of the products of their labour leeches into the hands of the Predators. Rights to the benefits associated with land were – and still are – reserved for a minority. How did this come about, why is it tolerated even in democracies, and what were the consequences for the fabric of the community?

To dominate the homeland space, those who would be lords of the land had to control the ligaments of power, for two reasons. First, they needed to justify exclusive possession of the soil. This entailed the refashioning of law; and, therefore, of the mind-set of the resident population. Second, they had to diminish the share of rent allocated by the community to fund culture. By controlling the power structure, the lords of the land were able to shift the costs of public services onto the wages of Labour, through taxation.

This audacious exercise in social re-engineering entailed intrusion into people's personalities. Recall that the emergence of humans out of nature was made possible by the fusion of ecology with intellect, culture and social relationships, which shaped minds and souls. To de-socialise nature it was necessary to refashion the way people thought and felt. The privatisation of Earth required the transfer of social life away from common people. This entailed the transformation of the egalitarian structure to one based on vertical (hierarchical) relationships. Thus, the Lords of the Land became gatekeepers of people's minds and souls. To accomplish this project, the would-be masters of the social universe had to embody within themselves both the spiritual and secular forms of power.

In modern times, to legitimise the coup against communities (to consolidate the gains from land privatisation), kings necessarily had to develop the doctrine of rule by divine right. Henry VIII, for example, orchestrated a change in the spiritual life of England to grab the sacred lands of the monasteries. This enabled him to channel the rents into his coffers, and sponsor the reallocation of land to courtiers. The surplus – the rent that sustained the welfare of the community – was secularised. And so, in England, as the agricultural revolution gave way to the industrial revolution, the economy increased its capacity to mobilise energy and expand the methods of producing income. This increase in organisational complexity was facilitated by the new financial architecture, which supported commercial transactions around the globe. To retain their control over this arrangement, land owners had to assume control over the monetary system. This they accomplished by taking control of the national exchequer.

The excluded – the landless – worked without being able to influence how the surplus which they produced was used. Out of their wages they had to sustain their families, pay rents to their land lords and yield an additional portion (taxes) exacted by the state. As rents were placed beyond the reach of the state, taxes assumed increasing importance as the alternative source of revenue. Then, the power to tax labour's income became a further tool for enriching the Predators. For investment in social infrastructure (such as highways) enhanced the productivity of the value-adding economy. But instead of clawing back this added value to fund the capital embodied in the infrastructure, this value was allowed to cascade down into the land market, where it was then pocketed by land owners. Whichever way they turned, the landless labourers – the value-creators – were losers. The state was hijacked to serve the interests of those who preyed on them.


Excerpted from The Predator Culture by Fred Harrison. Copyright © 2010 Fred Harrison. Excerpted by permission of Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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