Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Ascetic Virtue

I'm not really sure how to introduce this one, so I'll just jump right into it.

People who are accustomed to being well served by the system, will generally think there is nothing wrong with it. Systems of longer term stability will generally be the ones that allow thinkers to profit from their ability, and will thus tend to be well regarded by intellectuals. The people at the margin, those who are on the line between struggling to survive and outright disenfranchisement, will tend to be those least equipped to criticize the system in a productive fashion. However, a society which embraces asceticism as a form of virtue will have respected intellectuals on the economic margin, as well.

A society that serves and is served well by its intellectuals may tend to ignore potentially alarming trends at the margin. An increase in the number of potentially disaffected people may be ignored until it is too late, resulting in revolution. However, a society with a respected class of ascetic intellectuals will have a source of information about the condition of people on the margin, and, more importantly, potential ideas as to how the situation comes about, and thus be more likely to periodically reform in response to developing injustices, thus pushing the margin out, creating a more inclusive society.

Thus, a society which has asceticism as a core value will tend to have greater long term stability than one that does not, providing a potential socio-evolutionary explanation for why asceticism seems to crop up so often in successful systems of thought.

(The name of this post is a shout-out to fellow players of Sid Meyer's Alpha Centauri.)


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