Monday, 18 March 2013

We no longer live in Ancient Egypt, although many ancient prejudices are still around. Civilized society is based on contractual agreements. Adopting a rational view of the world

Three thousand years ago, life in Ancient Egypt was strictly hierarchical. Each person's origin determined which trade or profession he was to take up, his choice of spouse, food, and ideas. No dissidence was possible. There was no opposition and no escape. Progress and innovation were forbidden. Society was closed and, for hundreds of years, it remained immobile.

We no longer live in Ancient Egypt

When Alexander the Great arrived in Egypt in the year 332 B.C., it didn't take him long to crush the Egyptian army. The fast, entrepreneurial Greeks destroyed the bureaucratic Egyptian forces in less than two weeks. The Pharaoh was deposed and Ptolemy undertook to transform Egypt into a trading emporium and a marketplace for new ideas.

Only five generations later, the world had changed beyond recognition. During the years of the Roman Republic, the idea of hierarchy disappeared from the mind of free individuals. Despite major differences in wealth and ability, Roman citizens did not feel inferior to anyone when it came to purchase one another's products or services.

Under Roman law, if merchant Croesus hired architect Vitruvius to build him a house, both men were free to agree the price, terms, and conditions of their contract. Although Vitruvius worked for Croesus, he did not consider the merchant to be "his superior." A Roman citizen would have found hierarchy a laughable idea in the context of a commercial relation.

Many ancient prejudices are still around

Regrettably, the modern digital capacity to draw organizational charts at great speed, is bringing our mentality back to Egyptian times. How often do we hear about people who are seriously depressed because their name has been displaced, in an organizational chart, from one box to another placed a centimetre below?

While it is indisputable that commercial organizations need a structure to be able to function effectively, one should never forget that what keeps individuals working together is voluntary cooperation in the form of contracts. Commercial hierarchies as such do not exist in reality, although modern corporate doctrines go a long way towards obscuring this fact.

If you hire someone to clean your apartment, you are exchanging your cash for a service. If you look at yourself in the mirror and feel "superior" to the person who is cleaning your living-room, you are at odds with reality. If you work as an employee in a company, you are in no way "inferior" to whoever is paying you money in exchange for your professional services.

Civilized society is based on contractual agreements

Civilized society is composed of a myriad of formal and informal contracts between citizens. It is unfortunate that, in the business world, mythical theories about "leadership" and "stewardship" are doing much harm by creating the illusion that human hierarchies exist in the marketplace. Such false theories bring only anxiety, fear, and envy to those unlucky enough to believe them.

Work and happiness are individual endeavours. Which profession you practice, which employment you take, what tasks you perform, and how much money you make, are the result of contracts that you have entered into some time ago and in which you have decided to stay, for the time being.

Adopting a rational view of the world 

If you ever catch yourself thinking in terms of corporate hierarchies, stop whatever you are doing and take a minute to sharpen your vision. 

Forget about "superior" and "inferior" positions and learn to view human beings simply as buyers and sellers in the marketplace. Adopting a rational perspective of the world will bring you the peace of mind of the philosopher and the determination of the entrepreneur whose freedom to trade has just been rekindled.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


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