Monday, 17 August 2015

A Trait of Leaders - Redistributing the Riches that he has Recieved

'The Big Man' is a label that is applied to hunter-gatherer chiefs principally from Melanesia, but the phenomenon occurs throughout hunter-gather tribes worldwide.  It's a label indicating that he is the man who is big in his heart and generous in his ways.  He is the man who does not horde the resources that he accumulates (by his own hand and the hands of his fellow tribesman) but the man who gives his resources back to the tribe, to those that need them the most.

This is just one of the attributes of genuine leaders, rulers, Kings, Chiefs or whatever name they are called.

The phenomenon was first noticed by Marshall Sahlins (an anthropologist) amongst tribes in Melanesia:
In Melanesia, where a well-established form of personal politics thrives, the leader is called Big Man or Centre Man.

The Big Man in Melanesia is big because he has a following. He begins with his own family and near relatives and friends, who provide goods that he, on behalf of his group, gives away to other groups at a feast on some ceremonial occasion. He and his faction are feasted reciprocally by others at other times. His ability to redistribute on an increasingly lavish scale to larger groups expands his following. He thus amasses what the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, in reporting on the Trobriand Islanders, called a “fund of power.” With the public esteem gained in this economic contest, the Big Man is sought out for giving advice, adjudicating quarrels, planning ceremonies, and admonishing and conciliating. But this is influence, not the true authority that inheres in a status or office in an established hierarchy. A really big Big Man may succeed in integrating a region of several villages, but when he loses to a rival or dies, the unity of the region dissolves until some other unusually influential man unites it again.

The same attributes of the big man, generosity, are also found amongst the chiefs of North American Indians:
The Northwest Coast Indians elaborated a hierarchical form of organization, or chiefdom. They were the only hunter-gatherers to have done so. Chiefs or nobles occupied positions of high status that were inherited in a single descent line by primogeniture. Secondary lines of descent, collateral to the above, were of lesser status. Finally, there were the commoners.

Along with chiefly status went the socioeconomic institution of redistribution. Surplus products of family production were passed on to the chief, who in turn gave a large feast (or “potlatch”), during which he distributed gifts to those who needed them.

As well as the Americas and the Pacific Islands, the Big Man is a phenomenon that occured in Australia:
Aborigines had no chiefs or other centralized institutions of social or political control. In various measures Aboriginal societies exhibited both hierarchical and egalitarian tendencies, but they were classless and an egalitarian ethos predominated, the subordinate status of women notwithstanding. However, there is evidence in some areas, such as northeast Arnhem Land, Bathurst and Melville islands, western Cape York Peninsula, and among the Arrernte of central Australia, that strong leaders akin to the Melanesian “Big Man” existed

And it's a phenomenon that has carried through from the stone age into the modern era.  Titus Salt, Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie were some of the men in recent times who sought to redistribute the riches that they accrued over the years.  Titus Salt redistributed the wealth in the form of housing, schools and other buildings (in a town called Saltaire in the UK that he funded).  Henry Ford redistributed his wealth in the form of a fair wage for his workers (so called 'Welfare Capitalism').  Andrew Carnegie redistributed his wealth in the form of numerous philanthropic charities.  All of them gave away the wealth that they had accumulated over their lifetime from other people.  They didn't horde is and spend it on fine wines, yachts, women, mansions and all the other fripperies of the jet-set life.  They spent it on people that needed it.  And whether those riches which the Big Man has accumulated are tangible things (like food, housing, land, gold etc) or intangible (knowledge, information, social contacts etc) is irrelevant because they are both riches accumulated from others.  The point is to give them away again, and crucially: To those who need them!

This is what Big Man is all about, receiving and then redistributing goods to those who need them.  Hording, consuming, stockpiling and other similar traits are alien.  Giving is good, hording is bad.

Think about it this way: what would God be like if all he did was consume the fruits of your labour and give you nothing in return?  Would you think much of him?  Would you think him worthy of being your God, or would you despise him and all that he stands for?  Would you seek to supplant him and instead have a God that facilitates redistribution of things (be they tangible goods or intangible ideas & emotions) to those whom needed them the most?

God's not just a consumer, he's not an avaricious despot lording it over the Universe like a cliched Alpha-stud romping his way through all the goddesses he can lay his mucky paws on.  If he was then we wouldn't be here because the universe would be like a black hole - totally obsessed with self and consumption.

But of course God is not a black hole, and we're not trapped inside of it.  Instead God is (amongst many, many things!) a conduit through which goods flow from one person to another who needs them.  This is what God is like and this is what leaders are like, they let the goods flow through the tribe from those who produce them (and enjoy doing so) and giving them freely (i.e. un-conditionally) to those who need them. 

This is one of the traits of chiefs, and of real leaders everywhere.


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