When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks
Originally written for Everything2
Wed May 28 2008 at 0:51:58

If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and misrepresentatives of the masses -- you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction. I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.

Quote from union organizer and socialist, Eugene Debs, in 1918.

Different people have different goals in life. Some people take vows of poverty and choose to work with the poor. However, if you choose this path and are not able to improve the conditions of the poorest of society, there is less of a reason to take pride in your work. Like Debs said, it would be better if your own life got better because you've improved the lives of everyone, and you have risen with them.

There is a lot of effort by some devoted to suing each other over patents, getting properly rewarded for perceived contributions, and even getting proper credit when there's no economic consequences involved. A society which has less of this kind of behavior and more of the kind that tries to improve lives for everyone, even if done without direct reward, is a society that would more likely survive.

Affecting human behavior isn't easy without unintended consequences. If you use money as a reward for behavior good for society, eventually you may find yourself in a situation in which people are harming society for the sake of money. The same could be said of non-material rewards, like fame or other types of recognition. If you promote the reward too much, people may become focused on the wrong thing, and start to lie or cheat in order to get it.

Nevertheless, every society needs to find some way to encourage behavior that will improve that society's chances of survival. Even so, as long as people don't find the "good" behavior itself rewarding, they also need counter-balancing forces to prevent certain segments of society from getting carried away going after the external rewards, which may explain why "virtues" such as modesty and thrift have been promoted in societies alongside things like military honors and pay raises.


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