Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Limited Good

In 1965, George Foster wrote an article in the American Anthropologist entitled “Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good.”

By the “Image of Limited Good” I mean that broad areas of peasant behavior are patterned in such fashion as to suggest that peasants view their social economic and natural universes -- their total environment – as one in which all of the desirable things in life such as land, wealth, health, friendship and love, manliness and honor, respect and status, power and influence, security and safety, EXIST IN FINITE QUANTITY AND ARE ALWAYS IN SHORT SUPPLY, but in addition there is no way directly within peasant power to increase the available quantities…If “good” exists in limited amounts which cannot be expanded, and if the system is closed, IT FOLLOWS THAT AN INDIVIDUAL OR A FAMILY CAN IMPROVE A POSITION ONLY AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS (emphasis mine).

The theory of limited good is not confined to the field of anthropology but imbedded in the worldview of society, presented as a political philosophy and even in the realm of theology.

In India one of the reasons the caste system prevails is due to their notion of Limited Good. The low caste people may not like their station in life, but it’s their dharma, not everyone can be high caste, rich or powerful. Good is limited.

There is a political philosophy that believes that wealth should be regulated and distributed, as resources are limited. The idea is that the reason the rich get richer and poor get poorer is due to limited access to wealth and power and the best way to rectify this inequity is to redistribute wealth by taking from the rich and giving it to the poor.

Number three of Calvin’s five point theology (TULIP) is limited atonement. This theology proposes that salvation provided by God through Christ is actually not for all, but only for the elect.

If Limited Good was the worldview of the peasant society in the days of Jesus, where only those who took advantage of others prospered, perhaps the steward who turned his five talents into a profit of ten wasn’t the real hero after all.