The Evolution of Freeloaders & Compassion


I’d like to start this blog with a quote from Sebastian Junger’s new book Tribe, which is about how important group mentality is to our survival. In the book he describes how soldiers form such a powerful bond with each other in combat that it can be hard to assimilate back to their post-war existence at home. Modern life, with all its conveniences, also sacrifices interdependence and connectivity for autonomy and privacy. Junger explains this phenomenon in a historical context of how humans evolved to depend on each other and work together as a means of survival.

In one part of the book he makes a point about our evolutionary roots and how this has shaped the dichotomy of our political system:


“The most alarming rhetoric comes out of the dispute between liberals and conservatives and it’s a dangerous waste of time because they’re both right.

 The perennial conservative concern about high taxes supporting a nonworking underclass has entirely legitimate roots in our evolutionary past and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Early Hominids lived a precarious existence where freeloaders were a direct threat to survival and hence they actually developed an exceedingly acute sense of whether they’re being taken advantage of by members of their own group

But by the same token one of the hallmarks of early human society was the emergence of a culture of compassion and empathy where we care for the ill, the elderly, the wounded and the unlucky. In today’s terms that is a common and real concern that also has to be taken into account.

 Those two driving forces have been consistent for hundreds of thousands of years in human society and have been dually codified in this country as a two-party political system. The eternal argument over so-called entitlement programs and more broadly over liberal and conservative thought will never be resolved because each side represents an ancient and absolutely essential component of our evolutionary past.”


I found this excerpt to be very powerful because it actually states that both sides are in fact correct or rather have legitimate concerns. This struck me because instead of seeing the issue in black or white or right and wrong, it is more just a simple philosophical divide. If we were all in the same Tribe, half of us would want to leave the perceived “freeloaders” behind while the other half of us would be compassionate enough to sacrifice some of our own comfort for the greater good, and assume that the “freeloaders” may have legitimate reasons for not being able to contribute equally to the group.

It is easy as an educated liberal (or “liberal elite” or “libtard” if you will…) to feel that the political right is just ignorant or selfish or both. But likewise, most conservatives feel that us liberals are either lazy or idealistic and just don’t understand the financial reality.

Many Republicans I know are overly concerned with their own wealth and privilege. They feel they work hard and deserve what they have earned and have no interest in paying taxes to subsidize the supposed “underclass.” And in some cases, they don’t want to pay taxes because they just don’t like the government, period. Many conservatives believe that typical liberals don’t know what it is like to own small businesses and be subjected to endless regulation. They may also be racist, but in many cases they would state that it is not overt racism they practice, rather it is a reality that many of these supposed “freeloaders” are people of color, hence the support in this current administration for not having to be “politically correct.”

The liberal argument is that of compassion and empathy being the qualities that separate us as human beings from other mammals. We have the intellectual capacity to be compassionate to each other. We also have the education to understand our own power and privilege. Our skin color, our socio-economic status we were born into may have unequally put us in a position of power that we can only truly understand by practicing empathy and exploring what life might be like from a different point of view.

I just spent the last week in Mexico at a resort where people of color continually waited me on. Even though it was a great vacation, and very relaxing, it was also hard for me stomach at times. Throughout my stay there I experienced waves of guilt and gratitude. I felt like I was constantly being reminded of my own White privilege. I was surrounded by other White people from all over the world being waited on by Mexicans who might make in a month what some of us make in a day.

What was even worse was being from the U.S. and knowing that these native Mexicans must feel that our country feels they are literally second-class citizens. Our tour guide at a monkey sanctuary said that he felt that Americans who supported DT probably wouldn’t come to Mexico anyway. My husband and I later joked that they would still come as long as they were being waited on while they were there.

Sometimes I fantasize about the U.S. breaking up in half between the Midwest and the South and the two coasts. Maybe we can all migrate to like-minded parts of the country and then have one united state of hard-working independent people who don’t have any social welfare or liberal agendas and can have their low taxes and libertarian ideals. The other state (that I will live in with my family and friends…) can have Planned Parenthoods on every corner, single payer healthcare, gay marriage, gun control, social welfare, and civil liberties galore. Or I can just stay in Massachusetts forever.


But what I want to better understand is this philosophical dichotomy that Junger wrote about in his book. Is there a middle ground where these two concepts can co-exist? Can we keep freeloaders in check and still be compassionate human beings? Can we function anymore with a group or tribal mentality or are we coming closer to being “every man for themselves” because the larger group mentality is no longer working?

This is a discussion I want to continue to explore and would love to hear what you think…


Posted 3.14.17

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