Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs


Jane Jacobs’ Systems of Survival: The Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics identified two primary syndromes, the meme-complexes (reinforcing rule sets) prevalent in human society: the Guardian Syndrome of hierarchical, honor-based organizations like the military and government, and the Commercial Syndrome, practiced in trade, industry, and science.

These syndromes evolved with humanity, from hunter-gatherer warrior bands to feudal knights and modern armies, or from Phoenician traders to Venetian financiers and finally the corporations of today. The book is a fun and easy read, and I’d highly recommend it for the insight it gives to many modern political issues. Here are the moral rules for each syndrome:

Moral Precepts

Guardian Syndrome

Commerce Syndrome

  • Shun trading
  • Exert prowess
  • Be obedient and disciplined
  • Adhere to tradition
  • Respect hierarchy
  • Be loyal
  • Take vengeance
  • Deceive for the sake of the task
  • Make rich use of leisure
  • Be ostentatious
  • Dispense largesse
  • Be exclusive
  • Show fortitude
  • Be fatalistic
  • Treasure honor
  • Shun force
  • Compete
  • Be efficient
  • Be open to inventiveness and novelty
  • Use initiative and enterprise
  • Come to voluntary agreements
  • Respect contracts
  • Dissent for the sake of the task
  • Be industrious
  • Be thrifty
  • Invest for productive purposes
  • Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens
  • Promote comfort and convenience
  • Be optimistic
  • Be honest

For a roving band of warriors competing with enemies for territory, the Guardian Syndrome is appropriate. Governments, as the descendants of the ruling structures that evolved when those warrior bands settled in to defend and protect a civilian population, have many of the same features — a monopoly on the use of force, a need to defend against external enemies, and a requirement of secrecy and distrust of outsiders. But another part of their role is largesse — distributing the spoils of war and taxation, valuing courage, and defending the weak.

Commerce requires a different set of morals — valuing honesty and cooperation to achieve shared goals, trusting others more and valuing a reputation for fair dealing. The common commercial values allowed explorers traveling in lands far from home to trade with villagers despite a lack of common language and the obvious temptations of fraud and theft. Where the highest value of the Guardian class is winning with honor, the Commercial class aimed for mutual benefit and discovery of better products and ways of doing things.

The prosperity of the modern world developed out of runaway Commerce Syndrome successes, but the older, more feudal Guardian values are still important to proper functioning of states and their military and intelligence arms.

Each syndrome evolved to work well in its own sphere, and mixing them or involving one syndrome where the other should be used causes systemic corruption, as when Guardian-class government tries to direct all commerce (as in the dead USSR or today’s Venezuela), or commercial values intrude into governance (bribery of officials, “crony capitalist” use of government influence to protect and extend commercial monopolies.) Many of today’s issues come out of ‘monstrous hybrids,” in Jacobs’ term, which combine the two syndromes to create corrupt and dysfunctional organizations.

One example of a monstrous hybrid is the modern too-big-to-fail bank, so heavily regulated that its every move is controlled by government authorities while its managers are paid more in stock and bonuses than a thousand of its low-level workers. It has become nearly impossible to start a new bank, and the smaller ones are disappearing as compliance grows more difficult and expensive. Without fresh competition and at the mercy of politicians, banks now pay heavy tribute to politicians while getting major subsidies from the Federal Reserve in the form of no-interest loans. Their customers continue to pay more in charges while getting no interest on deposits.

Another example-in-the-making is the US military branches, long insulated from politics but now being pressured to adopt the values of civilian employers and the Civil Service. That will be the topic of my next few posts.

More reading on other topics:

The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

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