It is a far more savage world we live in than we are led to believe. Reasonable people would like the World to be moral, ethical, fair, and more humane, but it is not that way underneath. The modern World is especially adept at concealing its Savagery from us. Yet, it is that exact Savagery that we should see, understand, and come to terms with if we hope to do better.
Savagery in the open but with rules
Let me tell you a story from my childhood; I grew up in a village in Albania where the rule of the land was and is still an eye for an eye. We call it Kanuni Lek Dukagjinit, a set of laws not too different from The Code of Hammurabi.
When I was about seven years old, I was riding on the back of my grandfather's bicycle on the way into town to pick up some things from the town shop. Back then, after the collapse of communism few people had cars, and people were dirt poor. As we rode into town, we heard shots, not one, not two, but what sounded like a barrage of machinegun fire. As we got closer, other people told us to turn back. They told us that at least two people had been shot and killed. My grandfather, not wanting to jeopardize our lives, turned back.
As we rode back, others that were fleeing the scene explained what happened. A young man in his late teens had shot another man and his father. He had murdered them in cold blood using an AK-47. The dead man had thrown rocks at the store that the killer's family owned. It also turned out the killer had his younger sister watching the store when the now dead man broke in and harassed her. When the killer showed up on the scene, with his gun, to confront the man who threw the stones, an argument ensued with another older man. In short, in the chaos, the man who threw the stones and his father were both killed. Other people tried to get involved and advised this young man, the killer, not to take any more lives. They told him to run because now he and his family were in debt for at least two lives.
The killer ran and hid; no one saw him for decades; self-imprisonment became his life.
There are many cases like this in Albania because of the Kanun, but not as many as you would expect, given how savage what had happened was. It turns out that an eye for an eye in a place where everyone knows each other is an incredibly effective tool to deter violence. In my entire time living in our village, this was the only incident I was exposed to. As Savage as the above incident was, the murder rate in Albania is lower than the US per capita; this is despite it being an uneducated, rural, dirt poor in comparison. Because there are rules to the Savagery, and it is not hidden, everyone knows exactly what will happen after it occurs, and thus it greatly reduces its occurrence.
Savagery in the open and without rules
In the mid-1990s, my family brought me over to The Bronx, NYC, for a better life. The Bronx, as it turned out in the '90s was probably more savage than Albania. As a young kid walking to and from school, I got robbed at gunpoint twice.
Once, it was to steal my quarters when I was 12 as I walked to the arcade after school. I had four quarters left from not buying anything during lunch that day that I wanted to spend at the arcade. I can still feel that big silver handgun touching my forehead when I think about it.
The second time it was to take the north face jacket that was gifted to me for my birthday. Those are the most extreme examples of the Savagery that I witnessed in the Bronx. But there was no shortage of more minor examples. Fights would break out regularly, and getting "jumped," as it was called throughout middle school and high school, was a normal occurrence.
We can argue that there are "laws," and those are our "rules" as a society to prevent Savage behavior. Yet, even today, in 2021, with nearly its lowest crime rate ever, The Bronx has a murder rate that is 3x Albania's per capita.
The Bronx, if you're not careful, is a savage place. It does very little to conceal that from you, which serves to toughen you up if you are going to survive. It puts the onus on you to be aware of your surroundings. We can argue all day about how terrible this all is, but these are just facts about growing up in the Bronx at that time.
Savagery that is hidden and has no rules
Perhaps the worst kind of Savagery is the hidden kind that has no rules to it. Not because it's violent, although it can be, but because it robs the community and the World of the ability to do anything about it. It robs us of the ability to do better.
This kind of Savagery also shows us that it has little to do with education and far more to do with morals and ethics, which push us to be better versions of our nature.
The Varsity Blues Scandal in 2019 showed us how Savage even educated people are. We found out that well-educated, well-off parents were cheating the system to get their kids further ahead at the cost of others; some went to jail. They proved that they'd do anything to cheat and get their kids ahead.
We should not be naive about how much of this sort of Savagery goes on under the table in our society today.
There is nothing different between what those parents did and the sort of Savagery members of a communist party advancing their family members up the chain do. All of it is not good human traits we value, and all of it is unfair, and all of it is Savage.
We aren't doing our kids any favors by pretending the World isn't Savage, shielding them from it as if it does not exist.
An extreme example of what can happen if Savagery has no rules, and no eyes on it anymore, is the situation in Syria, where close to 500,000 people have died since 2011.
Savagery that is hidden but has rules
Savagery exists even in professional settings, and it is not just the violent kind. You can see people backstab each other, talk behind their colleagues' backs to management when they don't want someone to get promoted. You see people escalate things when it's not merited. You see all sorts of mean-spirited things that can only be qualified as Savage. Do you think not getting that promotion doesn't hurt? If it's stolen from you, then it is the same as someone stealing from you in the street or robbing your home when you're not there. Both forms take food from you and your kid's mouths.
In one of my jobs, at one of the big banks, the higher up's pulled the entire development team together for a celebration because through the automation the tech team would have to build, we were told, the bank would be able to cut hundreds of thousands of jobs. No wonder people hate working at banks, I thought.
This is the kind of Savagery that is executed with rules but the modern world tries its best to conceal from us and yes, there is no violence. But what is the difference between cutting someone's food from their plate and robbing them?
This article is not an indictment of capitalism or the way big companies have to continue to innovate to survive, grow profits; those are facts of our economic system. America is an amazing place, precisely because of opportunity, and capitalism is the best system we've got. Capitalism, I believe, works for the same reasons that survival, evolution, and all of the systems that govern nature work. Even if we don't like this system, it is the most "fair" and meritocratic one that works. I am not certain we will ever craft a better one. So far, every single "fairer" system has led to even more unfairness a few decades down the road.
Other economic systems that don't have the incentives for people to create abundance and won't let people get rich, such as Socialism or Communism, only lead down to one path: poverty and eventual bloodshed. Reduce incentives for the few that want to work hard and make more reduces motivation to innovate and create, and eventually, full collapse with more Savagery than anyone has ever seen. I was a child and lived through the collapse of communism in Albania in 1992. The 90s were some of the most Savage years in the country's history.
Economic systems such as Socialism try to trade good humanitarian outcomes and less Savagery in the name of "fairness," only do so for a limited time and massive pain down the road. The World is far more Savage than we like to accept, and once people don't have what they need, they will take.
At least the Savagery of the past cannot hide.
We would like to forget our past or think that we are so much better than our ancestors. But it was only 70 years ago that the World was gunning each other down during world war two, where over 75 million human lives were extinguished. But let's not forget that there have been many wars since then too. The war in Syria that the whole World is now looking away from, where over 500,000 people have died so far. Women, Children, elderly. What is happening in Syria is Savagery with no rules, and it is being hidden in plain sight.
That is the exact kind of Savagery the World will devolve into the more we look away.
A little before, a few hundred years ago, the Mongols under Genghis Khan. The people of the steppes, modern-day Mongolia, brought up on rocks and were dirt poor. Their lives were so hard they decided it was better to ride across continents, on top of icy rivers, on horses for days straight, in the middle of winter to reach Europe. From the Book "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World":
"The rivers that flow out of the Khentii Mountains are small and remain frozen for much of the year—even in May, when the ice is usually thick enough to support a team of mounted horses and sometimes even a loaded jeep. The long, broad steppes that stretch out along these small rivers served as the highways for the Mongols toward the various regions of Eurasia. Spurs of this grassland reach west all the way into Hungary and Bulgaria in eastern Europe. To the east, they reach Manchuria and would touch the Pacific Ocean if not barred by a thin ridge of coastal mountains that cut off the Korean Peninsula.
The frozen rivers that Europeans relied upon as their protection from invasion, such as the Volga and the Danube, became highways for the Mongols, allowing them to ride their horses right up to city walls during the season that found the Europeans least prepared for fighting."
All of this to slaughter people and take everything they had from them. Why would anyone do that? Because when you have nothing, you will risk it all so you and yours can have something.
Do we believe that what happens 70 years ago won't happen again, or what happened a few hundred years ago can't happen again? We have multiple major organized religions as a human race, all to get us to be less Savage, and yet here we are, the World is still a savage place.
Stop the modern World from pretending and concealing.
The Christian in me hates the sad reality that the World is Savage, we get baptized precisely to wash away that Savagery. But I have seen far too much in my short life to pretend that the World isn't that way. We all need to work hard to create a better, gentler world for ourselves and our families. Do unto others as they would do unto me, as we all should, but it is naive to pretend that everyone lives by that rule.
We should aim to expose the hidden Savagery of our modern World, make sure it is always in the open. We should never be allowed to look away from it or pretend it's not there. Just as importantly, we should have clear rules that meet that Savagery with Savagery.
"We need doctors, we need lawyers, we need dentists, we need teachers – but also we need fucking savages." - David Goggins, former Navy SEAL, former US Army Ranger, and former DELTA Force.
I am grateful for the things I have seen. I am more thankful for the places that did not hide the Savagery from me than the places that did. I am grateful I got robbed at gunpoint because it let me know what people can and will do to you if you're not careful.
We might not like the Savagery, but we shouldn't pretend it's not there or allow our modern World to conceal it from us.