Thursday, January 28, 2016

Discussing the Difference Between Socialism and Capitalism (Part 1)

When the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorialized on June 15, 2015 that Like it or not, Sanders' socialism is mainstream, I left a lengthy commentary, which you can read about in my blog post Sanders’s Open Socialism Blows the Cover Off of the Left’s Stealth Socialism. What followed my commentary was a lengthy discussion with other correspondents on the difference between socialism and capitalism. As we head into the 2016 election campaign, which features an open proponent of democratic socialism, this debate will grow in importance. So, I thought my commentary and replies, however rambling at times, important enough to publish here, if for no other reason than to stimulate further discussion.

In my commentary, I thought it necessary to open by defining my terms. For the purposes of this blog post, here they are:

Socialism is statism based on collectivism, the idea that the group is the focus of moral concern, to which the individual is subordinate and can be sacrificed at any time and in any way, if the group deems such sacrifice to be to its good. Under socialism, the government represents the group, and may initiate aggressive force against private citizens at will, in the name of the group (society, the public, the proletariat, the race). That’s why socialism, in practice—and whether or not the government is elected or not—has always led to dictatorship, persecution of and legalized looting of the productive, poverty, slavery, and mass murder. If the group is all that matters, then individuals are rightless when it comes to their lives, property, and personal goals. Under socialism, everyone but the rulers are equal in slavery to the collective, which can only mean the state. The fact that 36% of people have a positive view of socialism indicates that a large segment of the people are either evil or ignorant.

Capitalism is constitutionally limited republicanism based on individualism, the idea that the focus of moral concern is the individual. As such the government protects individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of personal goals, values, and happiness—so long as the individual respects the same rights of others, and pursues his goals by voluntary trade, association, and cooperation with others—by legally banning aggressive physical force against private citizens not only by private criminals but also by government officials. No group, no matter its size or whether it’s a private mob or electoral majority or a legislative body, can violate the rights of individuals—the individual being the smallest and only true minority. Under capitalism, everyone is equal before the law, in terms of their rights—rights being guarantees to freedom of action only, not an automatic claim to material values that others must be forced to provide—regardless of their social, personal, or economic standing. The fact that only 39% of people have a positive view of capitalism indicates that most people don’t know what capitalism is.

In reply to my definition, Painter in Jersey wrote:

@zemack No, socialism isn't that " the government represents the group." Socialism: The government REGULATES with the goal of overall betterment to the populous. Historically, you are wrong- not all socialist countries degenerated into despotism and dictatorship. In fact, Great Britain is largely socialist today- is David Cameron a persecutor and mass murderer?!
It has nothing to do with the death of the individual. The demise of the individual is about our culture not our economics. We killed the individual because we fell for the allure of group power. It's purely cultural. That's why one in seven people on this planet is on Facebook. It's robotic and disgusting.

I left this brief reply to Painter in Jersey’s definition, ignoring the rest:

What is the "overall betterment to the populous" if not the group over the individual? I rest my case on your contradiction.

Painter in Jersey responded:

@zemack You miss my point- you attempt to present it as the group vs the individual whereas socialism is the notion that the group is a collection of individuals. That is the fault in your dissertation. I rest now, Professor.

And me:

"The group as a collection of individuals" is precisely my point. Socialism holds the collective as a separate entity above the individuals that make it up. I think observational evidence of socialism in practice supports my view.


Painter in Jersey didn’t rest his case there, as it turned out. And others joined in the discussion I started. We’ll continue with the discussion tomorrow.

In trying to objectively focus on the difference between socialism and capitalism, one problem stands out: Many people have solidified the premise in their minds that the collective, however it is labeled, is an actual entity that exists. People hear terms like the “public good,” the “public interest,” “society,” the “populous,” etc. Society is treated as a concrete existent, even though you can’t observe it. It is so embedded in people’s minds that even Painter in Jersey, though in one sentence properly identifies the relationship of the group to the individual (“the group is a collection of individuals”), immediately falls back into collectivistic mysticism (the “overall betterment to the populous”). I say mysticism because collectivism—being the group separated from existents (actual individual human beings)—becomes a floating abstraction.  But being a source of human action, the collective must be concretized in some way. Having abandoned individuals as referents in reality, the state becomes the collectivist’s referent in reality. this is why collectivism must, without exception, lead to statism.

The frustrating thing is, I don’t think Painter in Jersey is being deliberately disingenuous. He seems to sincerely mean it.

To be continued. . .

Related Reading:

Sanders’s Open Socialism Blows the Cover Off of the Left’s Stealth Socialism


Steve D said...

'He seems to sincerely mean it.'

Herein lies the essence of the problem for people like myself who advocate capitalism. There is something which inhibits people from taking the necessary step to get to the point where they can look at the issue clearly. We need to understand the roots of this inability (psychological or otherwise) in order to correct it.

I think unwillingness or inability challenge a broader concept (altruism) has something to do with it. However, that pushes the problem back to the more fundamental question of why people will not challenge altruism. I wonder if there are psychological reasons we don’t yet understand.

But there may be a more mundane reason. The term ‘group’ has both an abstract and concrete connotation which can get mixed up in people’s minds because in a concrete sense a group does exist. The concrete connotation is a real concept; the abstract connotation is not.

You can take ten people put them in a room and then you have a ten person group. You can give them all a million dollars and you’ve increased the wealth of all ten individuals; thus the collective ten, the average and therefore the public good (of the ten).

Therefore, if by public good you mean the average good of all the people in society, that does exist and can presumably be measured. So it’s not difficult to imagine that people mean, or think they mean something like that when they use the term public good.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

“The term ‘group’ has both an abstract and concrete connotation. . .”

In many people's minds, yes. But in reality, “group” has no direct concrete referent. “Group” (or “public” or whatever) is a second level concept, derived from the first level concept “individual,” which does have a concrete referent in reality. You can see an individual—or ten, as in your example. But you’ll never see the group as an independent entity; i.e., apart from the ten. A group has no physical presence—no stomach, no heart, no mind. It’s nowhere to be found. It doesn’t exist. “Group” divorced from its individual referents is a floating abstraction. A person may “see” a group in his mind. But whenever he tries to focus his senses on any group in reality, all he’ll see are two or more individuals.

Group concepts have a valid cognitive function, but only when it is understood as an abstraction and not divorced from their concrete roots. If a person “sees” a group apart from the individuals that make up the group, all he is seeing is an illusion in his own mind. That illusion—the group mentally divorced from its individual concrete referents—is one of the biggest roadblocks to a capitalist society.

Yes, people are mixed up. I think the mixup is epistemological, and largely deliberate. Unfortunately, collectivist intellectuals deliberately keep the mix-up alive, and many of their adherents refuse to see because the truth contradicts their political beliefs. Our challenge is to clarify and educate anyone who is open and will listen.

Steve D said...

'Our challenge is to clarify and educate anyone who is open and will listen.

It's a good point. For the same reason you can't see a furniture or food but only an individual instance of it. What you can do is measure various parameters of the group such as average income or median wealth and substitute in your mind that parameter for the expression public good (or use that as an excuse for a floating construct when challenged about it)

'Our challenge is to clarify and educate anyone who is open and will listen.'

I agree. Unfortunately, we as a society are not moving in the right direction; in fact just the opposite. If the mix-up is deliberate, it may be epistemological but the reason is psychological and understanding it will help us come up with strategies to be more effective educators.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

True. One strategy I find useful is to simply ask what the person means by “public good.” I try to lead them to focus on the individual, and ultimately to the conclusion that “public good” really means the good of some individuals at the expense of others. I might ask, “Who is the public?” Answer; everyone. So, if everyone is the public, then only something that everyone agrees on is in the public good. If one or more persons disagree, then [fill in the blank] is not in the public good, and can’t be imposed by government. It usually leads to me to observe something like, “What you really mean by ‘public good’ is that you don’t like other people’s choices, so you declare yourself ‘the public,’ and impose your idea of ‘good’ on them, with the government as your hired gun. By what right?”