Praising Cain: Change the world forever by learning to love your life the way you actually live it.

How are you going to keep them down in the dirt after they’ve seen life among the free?

How are you going to keep them down in the dirt after they’ve seen life among the free?

Imagine this: You are the High Priest of a nomadic tribe following a herd of foraging sheep. When the tribe needs food, a beast is slain and the meat is shared equally. The political structure is hierarchical, but even the Chieftain is governed by the unchanging traditions of the tribe.

One year the herd wanders toward the seacoast. You encamp a short walk away from a trading post built by a sea-faring civilization.

For the first time in their lives, your tribesmen discover a way of life different from their own. The traders live indoors, sleeping on beds! Their diet consists of more than meat and foraged nuts. They eat grain, fruit and fish, flavoring their water with delectable nectars.

Wealth is not shared. Villagers trade with each other to get what they need — and each family owns its own land! Disputes are resolved by reasoned conciliation, not by fiat. Even so, each family seems to own more weapons than your whole tribe combined.

Anyone can introduce a new tool, technique or idea at any time — upending the whole civilization if it comes to that — and not only is this not forbidden, it is avidly sought!

This is horrifying to you as High Priest, but your horror is nothing compared to the apoplexy of the Chieftain. As he watches tribesmen disappearing into the village one by one, never to return, he turns to you for a solution.

Now you understand the story of Cain and Abel.

Cain, the trader, made a sacrifice of grain, Abel of meat, and the meat — the wealth of the herders — was pleasing to the god of the tribe. Why does Cain slay Abel in the story? To scare the tribesmen back into the herd.

The Greeks found a better way to live, spreading it with capitalistic abandon. Those who abhorred the Greek way of life crafted their mythologies to portray Hellenism as evil.

Would you like to change the world, forever, for the good, one mind at a time? Here’s how:

If you live in Cain’s world, stop pretending to live in Abel’s.

If your life depends on capitalism, private property and free trade, stop pretending to admire collectivism. If you thrive by continuous innovation, stop enshrining tradition. If you govern your behavior by reason and conciliation, stop praising vengeance and retribution. If you want to live free from coercion by other people, stop pushing other people around by force.

You know your way of life is better. Dare to share that secret with the victims of Abel. You are wrong to let Abel’s High Priests make you feel guilty about your wealth, but you are also wrong to hoard this civilization — this incomparable gift from Cain — to yourself. Innocents the world over are starving — in terror, in squalor — because you don’t have the courage to say that Abel was evil and Cain was good.

Make that one small change in your life, and the rest will come of its own…

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  • Rolando Gill

    I am a smart guy but I am having a tough time understanding your point about Abel’s world. I hope you don’t mind helping me. If I understand correctly, Cain was the chieftain who’s tribe was leaving and he killed Abel because Abel was willing to give up the wealth he had?

    This is the sentence that is giving me fits: If you live in Cain’s world, stop pretending to live in Abel’s.

    The following paragraph suggests that Cain was the capitalist. Color me confused.

    I love your work and I have read Man Alive twice and I keep learning. Thank you for writing the book.

    • > If I understand correctly, Cain was the chieftain who’s tribe was leaving and he killed Abel because Abel was willing to give up the wealth he had?

      My apologies. I wrote that text for an essay contest in 2006. I wasn’t even considered in the competition, of course, but the word limit — 500 words — is why the essay is so brief.

      To clarify: The Greek sea-faring civilization represents Cain in the Biblical/Koranic myth, and the herder tribe represents Abel. We are all of us Cain, except for the one hour a week we spend pretending to worship the gods of Abel. The essay argues that failing to honor our own true values is destructive of those values.

      Here is more, from a weblog post at PresenceOfMind.net:

      The Cain and Abel stories we remember and tell don’t bear much relation to the originals in Genesis and the Koran. We call Abel the good guy, because he was pleasing to god and because he was slaughtered by Cain, the bad guy de facto. But Abel is pleasing to God because his sacrifice is livestock, where Cain’s, displeasing to God, is grain.

      Why is that interesting?

      We need a root. ‘Immolation’ is Latinized word that means to make a sacrifice to the gods. Americans know the word best from the Vietnam war, and more than a few believe ‘immolation’ means to commit suicide by burning oneself to death as an act of protest. This is incorrect. Molitum in Latin means having ground grain. The Romans added in for intensification, elided that to im for euphony, and vowel-shifted the compound verb for reasons unknown, bringing forth immolatum, which to the Romans meant having sprinkled a coarse flour on the feet of a sacrificial victim. We are following tedious and boring strands of ancient ideas in order to discover some very important things about Cain and Abel:

      Abel was a nomad, a shepherd following his flocks. Cain was a farmer, fixed to a plot of land. Abel was a traditionalist, doing what all his (ahem) predecessors had done before him. Cain was an innovator, doing things never done before. Abel roamed the deserts. Cain was bound to the markets of the city. Abel’s wealth consisted of tangible chattels. Cain’s wealth was speculative, a thing of hopes and promises. Abel was a warrior, defending his own moveable estate by combat and vengeance. Cain was a merchant, depending for his defense on specialists, with his defense often being effected by means of compensation and reconciliation.

      Abel made a sacrifice of a lamb, thus establishing to God that he was a true Semite. Cain made a sacrifice of grain, demonstrating to god that he had been Hellenized. Forget the murder. The ‘bad guy,’ from the storyteller’s point of view, always does bad things. The point of the story of Cain and Abel is this:

      Abel was from Jerusalem or Mecca. Cain was from Athens.

      Abel was the fixed, the unquestioning, the unchanging–and thus was favored by the fixed, unquestionable, unchangeable doctrine. Cain was the fluid, the inquisitive, the innovative–the horrifyingly Greek–and thus his offering of the fruits of agriculture, of urbanization, of task-specialization, of commerce, of speculation, of peaceful dispute resolution–his offering of all the fruits of reason–was spurned by God.

      From Brin’s perspective, Abel is a Romantic, a champion of tradition, of hierarchy, of vengeance. Cain is Enlightened, the advocate of reason, of democracy, of peace. From my own broader view, Abel is the East and Cain is the West.

      And that whole thing is just an interpretation of a very old story, one I’m not even sure I’m finished with.

      > I love your work and I have read Man Alive twice and I keep learning. Thank you for writing the book.

      Bless you. Thank you. Please let me know if I can be of any further help to you.

  • Rolando Gill

    Thank you so much! I understand it much better and I am very grateful for your help and insight. When I grow up I want to be just like you!

    Thanks again!

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