Self-Branding Revisited II

All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves, we were all self-employed … finding our food, feeding ourselves. That’s where human history began. As civilization came, we suppressed it. We became “labor” because they stamped us, “You are labor.” We forgot that we are entrepreneurs.

-Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and micro-finance pioneer

In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes argued that life before society was stuck in a “war of all against all;” man’s natural state was selfish and chaotic. The advent of government was marked by an understood agreement to a social contract, by which men gave up their savage desires in order to cooperate with the group, under the pretense of the group gaining more resources with less effort per man than any one member of the group could have leveraged on his own. Karl Marx had an almost opposite perspective: he felt that communism was a return to man’s original state, in which property did not exist and men shared resources in harmony based on need.

We now know that the truth is, of course, somewhere between the two. Humans have for their entire history lived together in social bands, but perhaps not as primitive communists. Hierarchies kept order, and bad behavior was punished. Bands may have distributed resources based on work, rank, or need.

Bands rarely exceeded 150 members, which happens to be the number of people we are roughly able to keep track of to this day. You might have 500 Facebook friends, but 150 is about how many people you could accidentally run into and share a beer with, sans awkwardness. For the average person, this may be about 100 people with whom they work on regular basis, and 50 non work-related friends and family members.

In a band (or tribe as well), you didn’t have a resume, but you did have a reputation. You didn’t have Google nor old Facebook pictures, but gossip occasionally kept your past alive. Everyone knew who you were, and what your “thing” was. Your “thing” was who you are, how you treated others, how you hunted or worked, your idiosyncrasies, and more. In a word, in a primitive band you would have had a “brand.”

The quote above captures it well. Becoming labor was overall a good thing: agricultural and industrial societies do a much better job feeding everyone than hunter-gatherer societies. However, and here’s where I am speculating, some degree of self-respect and individuality may have been lost when people started no longer having a “thing,” and instead started doing the same thing as three dozen other people. In general, vast institutions and their hierarchies made us feel like anonymous cogs rather than our own “entrepreneurs.” Perhaps this is also where being “labor” versus being an “owner” started to mean vastly different things in terms of how much property you own and what quality of life you enjoy. So proprietism is therefore kind of like the paleo-diet version of a form of organization. Everyone owns a little piece and everyone is responsible for their “thing.” Most of all, everyone has a “thing.”