Conversations With a Socialist
I've been having a fairly interesting conversation with a socialist regarding two of my recent posts. I have been invited to step back from the anti-socialist propaganda [I've] been exposed to and get a socialist clue. Almost anything I study in any sort of depth comes out one way or another in this blog, so here are my thoughts on socialism, taken from this conversation. Despite the length of it, I've left a lot out. It is not my intent to miscontrue any argument, but only to shorten them as much as possible, without paraphrasing.

What do you, Dana, feel is the opposite of socialism?

Off the top of my head, I'd say individuality. However, that doesn't work so well since it is a philosophical idea and socialism is an economic system. So I'd have to go with free-market economy. Incidentally, democracy is clearly NOT the opposite of socialism, not only because it is a political system rather than an economic one. A democracy can become socialist. And, for the record, we are a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy, anyway. We have varying controls in place to guard against "the will of the people."

Is socialism, to you, anything but a big bag of sorts in which you collect all your animosity?

I'll translate as, how do you define socialism. From, because it seems about as good as anything I can find:
1. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.
It has primarily to do with the centralization of the means of production. While you make an interesting point that I really only deal with this aspect of the definition and not collective ownership by the people, it is largely irrelavent. I would be opposed to this, but it isn't really an issue in this country. We are currently witnessing in a trend toward the centralization of our means of production by our government. It isn't that I have never considered it, as you posit, but that Americans are not clamoring to live on a collective or as a collective. I actually considered myself a communist at one time, and that is pretty close to what I believed.

If you could at least ACKNOWLEDGE that this, too, is a legitimate meaning of socialism, perhaps you wouldn't consistently trash 'socialism' without bothering to disambiguate the word.

Um. OK. I acknowledge it. I've never said anything to the contrary. But even in utopian Spain, there is a central government. Else why would there be a thriving socialist party? And I cannot disambiguate a word that has more than one meaning. This form of socialism is as distasteful to me, but as I mentioned above, it is largely irrelevant to the American situation.

It was good of you to point out that your exact use of the word 'socialism' is less important than your or my 'world view.'

Thank you, but I didn't actually say that. What I said was that I had mentioned socialism twice and socialist 14 times in 154 posts (not including its mention in my profile, which I forgot about when I did the search). I noted that your opinion of my view of socialism appears to come largely from one reference in a satirical piece, not from anything I have actually said on the subject. Then I went on about the worldview. What you are referring to is an underlying worldview which I am happy to hear is so obvious, namely that I favor individual rights, view "the collective" as a sort of mythical is nothing more than a group of individuals.

This is obviously a very large question, but I would like to discuss the worldview, which reminds me of something Margaret Thatcher once said, which is that "there is no such thing as society." I am sure that she and you have the same basic worldview.

That is a large assumption to make from a leap in logic. I said that "the collective" is a sort of mythical construct, not that society doesn't exist. I'll assume you are intimately familiar with Maggie's worldview, but you are not so familiar with mine to so easily shove it in a box based on a similar quote. Clearly, society exists. Actual collectives have been rare, although much talked about in socialist literature. A collective is a gathering of individuals:
n: members of a cooperative enterprise
That is all I meant in that. The individual does not disappear. And we are individually responsible. By the way, don't be so quick to trash all Thatcher has to say just because when you pull that quote out of context, it sounds so absurd.

...The fact that there is a sky or air all around everyone, distributed in such a way as to be freely available to everyone, makes the air a collective interest. It is not the domain of individual profit-seeking and control. If it were, then some enterprising spirits would horde the oxygen that it contains and deprive others of it, and this would be deemed an acceptable expression of individualism.

I'm not quite sure what you are getting at. The fact that air exists proves only that air exists. It's mode of distribution is not a matter of human planning. I'd say it is due to a gracious act by a loving God. If air indeed could be horded in the manner you speak, I think you might have more of an argument for a collective interest in controlling its collection. I think you are making too many assumptions based on your view of what it means to have a free market. Show me an actual example of profit-seeking individuals who have horded any resource to deprive others of it...and how it was deemed an acceptable expression of our free market system. Most of our poor live better than most of the world. The societies most notorious for doing just what you describe are socialist in nature, especially China and North Korea.

The air, which, if it is property, must be deemed the property of everyone, equally, cannot be protected properly by the profit motive.

Your example is irrelavent in that it is purely hypothetical. As I noted above, we do not see this going on with resources which can be controlled. I'll narrow this to the example of air pollution since it at least exists. Question. Do we have a collective interest in clean air, or do I have a private interest in clean air? I would say we each individually have a private interest to clean air for a number of reasons. In any of these movements, what we see is private individuals (such as Bernard Bloomfield of Michigan) who have had a concern. They have raised support. They have gathered together like-minded people to educate and eventually have grown to a number significant enough to influence legislative decisions. Or they themselves have been appointed or elected to a relevant office. It wasn't a spontaneous, collective, response, but the actions of a concerned individual which grew in time. The actions of individuals are more important than many realize. Incidentally, it is exactly the profit motive which motivated businesses to stop polluting, not a sort of collective conscience. Faced with consumer pressure and the onset of fines, they looked for alternatives.

In the attempt to imagine a society which is in fact only a loose assemblage of individuals acting freely, one fails to see that, in fact, once one weakens government (a collective interest and property if there ever was one) to the point where it can no longer protect and administer public interests, then the result is not increased individual freedom for all, but increased vulnerability to the unchecked exercise of corporate power in particular.

First, it is not the job of our government to administer public intersests. As to your unchecked corporate power, you are basing this on your characterization of capitalism, not on what we actually see happening. Second, you are still assuming that I don't believe that society exists. To be very clear, society exists. When I maintain individuality and individual rights, I am not talking about a "loose assemblage of individuals acting freely." What I mean is that the interests of society are not above that of the individual. Society is not the great organism, with each person nothing but an insignificant cell. We are a body, each as significant and valuable as the rest. When one maintains personal responsibility, one does not weaken government, but change the location of it. I am governed internally by my conscience (Christ). That is the essence of self-government...not that we choose our rulers, but that we govern ourselves. We are individually responsible for our actions. A person should not lose that right until he violates the basic principles of life, liberty and property of others. That is what just laws are for. Not the redistribution of wealth so that we can all have the same, but to protect us from those who refuse to govern themselves so that we might have that which we have worked for.

And you can speak of unchecked corporate interests and inequality in this country, but it exists throughout the world. And where it is most dangerous is where it is gathered together under the government umbrella and used with absolute authority. Incidentally, American socialists at one time looked favorably upon the ever-expanding corporations, driving out indivdidual enterprises. They saw this as a peaceful means of centralization. When complete, the government could then easily take it over.

I think we both understand that [Germany and Spain] are social shows that in these countries as in others emphasis on social welfare, that is, on the well-being of society itsef, does not restrict individual freedom and in fact enhances it.

That really depends on how you define "individual freedom." This is perhaps a question I should have brought up earliers, but in most of what I read, socialists generally presume that liberty cannot exist if inequality exists. If this is true, than there is no liberty anywhere, for inequality is rampant. There are rich and poor in every nation, no matter their central planning. In our nation, we care for our poor and sick. But we tend to do so more on a voluntary basis. While we do have welfare and medicare, we also have a thriving sense of responsibility for our neighbor and raise more money than any other nation to care for those less fortunate than ourselves. This is because, according to our national heritage, we are personally responsible for ourselves and then to aid our neighbors, being anyone in need.

So, the problem with 'narrowing your opposition,' as you said, is that you end up castigating a straw man under the very large banner of 'socialism.'

Is centralization a part of the definition of socialism or not? It seem pretty black and white. This is not a "straw man" simply because you say it is. Centralization is an aspect of socialism. I have spoken largely against centralization for reasons already mentioned. That does not negate my argument in any way.

Leaving health care largely in the hand of private enterprises has given the US the most expensive, and in a number of ways, least efficient health care system, with much more money being spent on advertising than on medical research and well over 40 million citizens with no coverage at all. Try to get those 40 million to celebrate their freedom in such a system as this. Tell them that their health is of no concern to the collective, because the collective is just a fiction. Ask them to find an individual solution for their lukemia or their shingles.

This, I'm afraid, does not work well for you argument. Largely, we have allowed the free market to work in health care with some regulation and some redistribution via medicare, but not nearly to the extent practiced in other countries. And what do we see? People who are really sick come to the United States for our expensive health care.

In 2003, 15,000 elderly French died in nursing homes due to heat waves and the fact that they could not afford air conditioning. Such a heatwave would not have caused such a problem here. Despite our lack of generosity on behalf of the government, even our government financed nursing homes have air conditioning.

A number of Canadians have difficulty seeing a doctor when needed.

It is also interesting to note that we have the highest survival rates for at least two forms of cancer.

Survival is a nice perk which leads to greater freedom in the short run, at least, so does the speed at which surgeries can be arranged. I'm not sure if I put coronary bypass surgery in the "elective" category, but this part stood out to me:
the percentage of the respondents in need of elective coronary bypass who had been waiting for more than three months was 0% in U.S., 18.2% in Sweden, 46.7% in Canada, and 88.9% in the United Kingdom.
O Canada! Despite spending the most on health care, THEY, not the US, get the least. And the big factor seems to be the fact that they allow no private health care organizations if a public one exists, unlike those they were compared to.

Try to get those who have died, are waiting for months for a coronary bypass or cannot even get a first contact appointment to celebrate their "freedoms" brought about by the complete control of market incentives.

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