Sorry to pop in late to the discussion - I've been
being a tourist in Rome.
Going back a bit, the line between symbiosis and
parasitism isn't always that clear. For example, a
symbiot who eats other parasites living on the host by
preference may eat directly off the host if none are
The same is true in society. In the United States,
before Prohibition it was perfectly legitimate to
operate a pub. Then came Prohibition and it was
criminal, then Prohibition was repealed and it was
legitimate again. Some of the activities labeled as
criminal are providing services that substantial
numbers of people want to buy such as liquor,
marijuana, off-track betting and prostitution. All of
these can be utilized without harm to some or most of
the population but not to everyone. All of these vary
in their prohibition from country to country and all
are legal in some places so this is definately a
cultural difference. There are also interstices within
the law (mentioned by Norbert Wiener in "Human Use of
Human Beings")such as the grey market where people's
safety and consumer protection are at risk.
As I understand the origins of the Mafia, they filled
a gap in Sicily where the then Italian government was
not able to provide the things that governments
normally provide. Something similar might be said of
youth gangs that offer belonging, structure and the
possibility of gaining respect in a social environment
where these are in short supply. Both of these live
off their societies as parasites but it can be argued
that they began as result of deficiencies in the
societies they occupied. A proportion of regular
crime as well amounts to legitimate goals (prosperity,
status...) pursued by illegitimate means.
There is a sense in which many legitimate businesses
and social relations carry an element of exploitation.
If it is mutual it approaches fair exchange but when
it is not they look very parasitic to me. Values come
in here, especially where a breakdown in trust makes
the whole atmosphere a bit toxic. It is easy to see
the extremes but not so easy to draw the line as some
will feel or be exploited in circumstances where
others will not.
As to universals, I submit that they exist in a
general sense such as people should have access to
legitimate means of living a good life, should be able
to have trust in their transactions and should have
some autonomy to make choices on their own behalf.
These contribute to a viable society and one where the
worst forms of parasitism will not find a nutrient
medium. As to particulars and perceptions, they vary.
There was an excellent example of this emerging into
Rome with the crowd. People were dressed in
everything from short sleeved t-shirts to down jackets
and scarfs. The air temperature was constant but the
response was not.
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