"An undeclared struggle has been waged among men since the dawn of our genus Homo some two million years ago: the struggle between “little” men and “big” men. It is to the “little” men and their mates that we owe our being anything other than one more species of small-brained, upright-walking apes. Back then dominant males monopolized mating by forcibly keeping subordinates away from females, reducing most males to marginal opportunists whose principal hope of substantial reproduction lay in displacing the dominant from his position.
Until, that is, a subordinate male here and there tore his attention away from the dominant and fastened it on one of the sequestered females instead. By bending his efforts to serve her needs he became sufficiently useful to her to attract her away from the dominant to himself. To begin with, the venture had to proceed surreptitiously, but it did succeed to the extent that she mated with him and bore him children. As descendants of their liaison we bear a permanent mark of that origin in our preference for mating in private, because these “little” men paired with women founded the genus whose name we bear today.
“Little” man exertion on behalf of his mate and their offspring was the gate through which big-brained infants appeared among our ancestors. Their nutrient needs and protracted development required joint parental effort, short of which we would still be walking around with but fist-sized brains behind a brow-ridge rather than a forehead. Moreover, with male resources formerly devoted to male rivalry now being invested in women and children – that is, productively – we set our feet on the path of material and cultural change we have trodden ever since.
Yet the success of “little” men did not cause “big” men to vanish, because they are more like our own lesser selves than they are an eliminable “sort." In the new situation created by the success of “little” man effort on behalf of his mate and their children, a “big” man pretender could no longer – as once he did – get away with doing nothing for the females he would monopolize. So “big” man hopefuls, using the big brain “little” man effort had given them, set about enticing females back to themselves by might and by wealth. For every additional female a “big” man pretender now would keep for himself,* he needed to come up with the resource-equivalent of a “little” man’s effort. Having only one such himself he made up the difference by exacting what he needed from “little” men by trickery, duress or outright use of force, in short: unproductively.
To succeed in his aims, a “big” man pretender needs “little” man compliance, and issues his call of “heed me!”, “follow me!”, or “submit!”, as the case may be. Every such call – be the context what it may – is a bid to appropriate the resources of “little” men in order to further the interests of a “big” man and his projects. The means to such appropriation run from promoting donation of labor under the influence of a myth or image cultivated by “big” man pretensions, to building massive state machines to tax “little” men for projects hatched by “big” man builders and maintainers of those machines, to inspiring “little” men to risk and give their lives for the “big” man’s cause in war.
Every cause, movement, or ideal, every sect, party, or creed, every vision, dream, or betterment scheme furnishes openings for “big” men to put one over on “little” men to appropriate the fruits of their labor. The first line of defense against such despoliation is to follow no one.
While “big” men have been working schemes for their own aggrandizement at “little” man expense, the latter too have been using their brains to further their own interests. Thus they discovered a means by which to increase the value of their labor by exchanging its products with one another. Say you have something I want, and I have something you want, and each of us would rather have the other’s resource a bit more than we would our own. Then we will both be better off by simply exchanging them between us, be they goods, services, or their equivalents, in any combination. So we will seek and find those with whom we can conduct such reciprocal exchanges, and we will reckon with such prospects when deciding on how to deploy our efforts, as long as no one prevents us from doing so.
The productivity latent in the logic of "little" man exchange is open-ended, but not exempt from the parasitism and predation that beset human beings where they manage to order their affairs well enough to be productive. The first comes in well-worn forms of crooked and criminal dealings – theft, deception, cheating, lying – but also in more insidious guises, rife with moralistic rhetoric extolling the social virtues, preaching the good of the group and its interests, and confusing self-interest (improving your lot in life) with selfishness (doing so at the expense of others). As a cloak for selfish pursuits, such rhetoric disarms those possessed of a greater measure of the virtues to which it appeals, and debases the principles it invokes in so doing.
Predation is the parasitism of the strong. It appears most obviously as gangsterism from within and as conquest from without, two of the cruder forms of “big” man machinations. For “little” man relations to realize their potential they must accordingly be guarded against parasitism and predation through adequate means of adjudication and defense. The encumbrance, moreover, comes partly from within, because what is to stop a "little" man, grown resource-rich through honest effort and exchange, from nursing "big" man dreams in his breast?
The answer is: only other "little" men. Only they have an interest in doing so. "Enjoy your means," they say, "but leave our women alone and don’t expect us to do your bidding. Otherwise we will hold you in contempt, expel you from our midst, and shun your every endeavor." That step and stance completes the "little" man venture in human affairs by defending it against erosion through its own success. That step and stance determines the very possibility of ever leaving our “big” man past behind, to complete what the first “little” men began by turning their attention from the dominance contest to the needs of individual women.
That is still how it is done: “big” men must be foiled by other than “big” man means. In order to prevail against “big” men without becoming “big” men themselves, “little” men must come to know “big” men better than “big” men know themselves. This they can do by means of the “big” man every “little” man carries in his breast, because a “little” man can dispense with the pretense and final bit of self-deception a “big” man needs to ply his trade convincingly. Thus “little” men shake off the naïveté that leaves them impressed by “big” man antics, embrace the full measure of their manhood, and hold in their hands the future direction of the human race they once founded.
*The number of men and women is equal generation after generation. That means that for every additional female a “big” man pretender succeeds in tying to himself, a “little” man goes without any woman at all; in a sense a throw-back to primordial days."