This is a discussion I had with someone on stumbleupon. I forgot to copy and paste the first few messages we traded before they cycled through, so I will have to fill in with gists. I also wanted to write this blog post to more thoroughly address the arguments. Parts that were not in our original discussion, for the sake of fairness, will be in italics
Did you know that Vonnegut and Orwell were both socialists, and that their books often reflected this? For example in 1984 when Orwell writes "hope lies with the proles" he was certainly advocating socialism. Do you find it disconcerting? How you respond is dependent on how vigorous your research is.
not really. I can like a book yet disagree with it's message. But seriously, wasn't Animal Farm a work dedicated to showing that socialism cannot work? And I am well aware of Vonnegut's love for Eugene Debbs, his socialist idol. But his books are still entertaining to read, and he doesn't advocate socialism in them.
Also, in 1984, there is really big, rights-devouring government, which is a dominant feature of socialistic and communistic governments. And as I see it, this "big brother" could not exist in a country that is not socialistic. I believe this because the state has no incentive to spy on the people if there is no state to take down. The only reason the state would have to spy on the people is to force people to follow stupid rules or prevent people from plotting to overthrow the state. If the state has no power, then it has no power to lose. If it has no power to lose, it has no incentive to spy on the people.
And how does the state get power? It begins providing services for the people, then taxing the people for the money to provide these services. When the government provides services, that is socialism. The only way the state gets power is by taxing, the only way the state gets to tax is by providing services. Therefore, the state only has something to gain by spying on the people if it is a socialist government.
With that in mind, how is 1984 a pro-socialist work?
"How you respond is dependent on how vigorous your research is."
Not very, apparently. :-)"But seriously, wasn't Animal Farm a work dedicated to showing that socialism cannot work?"
No, actually. Orwell was writing an account of the history of these events, and what went wrong. He was not out to disprove or discredit socialism.
"and he [Vonnegut] doesn't advocate socialism in them."Are you sure? Socialism meant a lot to him, and the kinds of stories he wrote were most definitely about social commentary, an excellent place to advocate socialism.
"When the government provides services, that is socialism."
The main problem here, of course, is that you are using a definition of socialism that Orwell and Vonnegut do not use. That's right, what the word means to you is very different than what the word means to Orwell, Vonnegut and myself. Once we work out a definition, you'll begin to see how Orwell is consistent and how Vonnegut's books contain ideas reminiscent of socialism.
Wow, you are kind of an intellectual snob. You didn't address any of my points, you just implied that I had clearly not done enough research because I disagree with you. Well, friend, that isn't how debates are won.
I mean, it seems like you are asking me to drop some knowledge on you. How can you be an anarcho-socialist? Socialism depends on the coercive taxation of the worker, and taxation is immoral, not to mention impossible in anarchy, unless the anarchist wants to employ violence to carry out this taxation.
Granted, you could be a voluntary socialist, but any commune you lived in would be destined to poverty, as you could not acquire the funds to purchase medicine or much of the things that make life easy.
Seriously, anarchy cannot work without capitalism. Without capitalism, everyone would have to revert to the life of the farmer, or command economies would come up and force some people to farm and others to do other jobs. Either way, violence is initiated to achieve the goal, and that is immoral.
Hey, maybe you should do some more research, or at least some rigorous research.
and what's more, your quote "For example in 1984 when Orwell writes "hope lies with the proles" he was certainly advocating socialism." doesn't make sense. If anything, that quote implies that the proles would have to overthrow the government, not that they would have to overthrow the government and implement another socialistic government.
I mean, seriously Commerican, in 1984, the food was rationed out by the state, and the state was portrayed as horribly evil. How do you get the impression that Orwell thought socialism was a good thing at all? He crushes socialism in 2 novels. He uses the terminology of Marx to present the ideal circumstances for Marxism (Marx called himself a socialist) and then he goes on to say that the proletariat class would never band together or overthrow the government. He was saying Marxism would never come around because the working classes were too stupid to understand what was going on.
not a major point, I was just saying that your analysis made no sense, and logic should have been used to analyze the quote.
Me:"You didn't address any of my points, you just implied that I had clearly not done enough research because I disagree with you."I didn't address your points because you posited them incorrectly. I did not imply, I outright accused you of not doing enough research, and not because you disagree with me. I would argue that you don't know what my position is, and that you cannot disagree with me until you are actually aware of it and can recite it back to me. "How can you be an anarcho-socialist?"
Fairly easily. I recognize that:
1) Power structures use their power to maintain and grab more power. This goes for governments as well as economic institutions. It is foolish and a bit naive to believe that the government and the economy are two separate and opposing entities. Big government is a result of big business, and vice versa. One cannot exist without the other.
2) The only way to limit power is to have everyone as equal as possible. Power comes from making decisions, so having people involved in making decisions, to the extent that these decisions affect them, is the way to go.
3) The interests of the individual are best realised when people are working together. A single person cannot build roads or airports or hospitals. I read an article recently about traffic patterns that is somewhat analogous to and debunks this idea that everyone climbing over each other actually makes it better for all. Drivers seeking to get ahead by constantly changing lanes were contributing to traffic jams, because drivers behind them would have to brake and adjust, and so it went all down the line.
4) The sum total of human endeavour ultimately goes to making rich people richer, not to the betterment of society as a whole.
So, when I say I am a libertarian (another word for anarchist), I mean that I understand that power is used to maintain and seek more power, and so therefore must be limited. When I say I am socialist, I mean that if we are to do things, we should do them together, cooperatively, for the betterment of society, not just for a small segment of it, with specific goals and restrictions in mind, which ultimately betters the life of each individual.
"Socialism depends on the coercive taxation of the worker"You sure?"Seriously, anarchy cannot work without capitalism."This is entirely incorrect. The problem arises, again, because we are using different definitions of capitalism. Anarchy was a response to capitalism, it was a response to the loss of decision-making power workers felt as their world was turned upside down. Anarchy is diametrically opposed to capitalism. There is a buzz term going around now, "anarcho-capitalism", that is oxymoronical and may be what you are thinking (see the post below).
"How do you get the impression that Orwell thought socialism was a good thing at all? He crushes socialism in 2 novels."
:-)"He uses the terminology of Marx to present the ideal circumstances for Marxism (Marx called himself a socialist)..."
Marx did more than call himself a socialist, he described what socialism meant, at least the definition I'm using. He also came up with the definition of capitalism. He wrote a book about it called Das Kapital. I would like to point out here, once again, that the definitions you are taught in American public schools are not the proper definitions. (More on this later.) You'll have to read some of the appropriate literature to find out what these terms mean (that's what I mean by 'research'). Honestly, did you think that US schools would tell you the real definitions and help you understand them?
"...and then he goes on to say that the proletariat class would never band together or overthrow the government. He was saying Marxism would never come around because the working classes were too stupid to understand what was going on."If the working classes are too stupid to understand what's going on, who is making the decisions? Is this decision-making class making the best decisions for the working class, or for themselves? Could they abuse their power? Would they? Sounds to me like you are making a really good argument for the state - centralized decision-maker that gathers all the people that 'understand what is going' together in a well-meaning governing body. Be careful what you say, "libertarian".
"and logic should have been used to analyze the quote."Truly.
wow, it's odd how he presents socialism as totally evil in both 1984 and Animal Farm.
But anyway, democracy is still evil. If people vote to ban gay marriage, does that make it right to ban gay marriage, or is marriage just part of the human right to make consensual agreements (assuming these agreements don't violate anyones property)? It has been said that "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting over what to have for lunch", and I don't think that that is far off. The government accumulates all of our money through violent coercion, the act of robbery/taxation. That is absolutely immoral.
Oh, and before you start spouting off your anti-capitalist rhetoric, capitalism occurs only when both parties benefit. In the example of work, the employer values my labor more than the money he pays me, and I value the money more than the time I spend working. Both parties benefit from this transaction, and no violence is needed.
"is marriage just part of the human right to make consensual agreements (assuming these agreements don't violate anyones property)?" Marriage is a social construct to determine property rights. The reason why gay marriage is not allowed is because in the 4th century the church would inherit the land and property of a widow, because, you know, women can't own property. A male widow (midow?) would get to keep the land, which the church didn't like. Funny how our culture has these silly rules in regards to property. Notice also that property relations need not be just, fair, or even make sense - they just need to facilitate consolidation of wealth and power.
"But anyway, democracy is still evil."
So what other way should we arrive at the choices we make as a group? If democracy is one side of the spectrum, and monarchy (mono-archon) the other, where does the ideal lie? Since the great days of feudalism, there has been a general trend towards more and more citizen participation and, not surprisingly, personal freedom, which is really, really awesome. Mainly because it's not feudalism. Be careful what you say, "libertarian".
"...capitalism occurs only when both parties benefit"You sure? Marx had a different perspective:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism#Marxian_political_economy"Both parties benefit from this transaction, and no violence is needed."
Well, how much time must pass before wealth acquired through coercion becomes legitimate?
it never becomes legitimate. it is always stolen money, taken without consent from the people. It never, ever becomes the legitimate property of the thief. what kind of silly question is that?
Give it back to the native americans. Give it back to the slaves.
But we can't, because we pretend that the violence and coercion of the past has no bearing on current conditions. Descendants of rich old white men that bought slaves and extorted them are often still receiving the benefits of this slave labour. My ancestors owned slaves, and I'm sure my middle-class status has something to do with that.
Capitalism continues on as if theft is legitimate.
Is a recipient of government money that was collected through taxes a moocher? Is the wealth they create legitimate?
by the homesteading theory, property is unowned until a human infuses it with his labor. If land is undeveloped, and no one has developed the land around it, then it is free for development. The native americans did not develop all of america, and for the parts that they did develop, the colonists had no right to take that land.
Regarding slaves, I have never owned slaves, my ancestors have never owned slaves, and slavery was uneconomical. Granted, it is completely immoral, but the descendants of slaves have every right to sue the families of their ancestors masters for back wages, but that is just because slavery is a violation of rights. Slavery is an anti capitalistic action to begin with, as it claims that some people don't own their body, and capitalism is founded on the belief that one owns their body and their labor.
And current industry benefited in no way from slavery.
but hey, I'll humor you, in the event that I might learn something. What theft does capitalism benefit from, and how does it benefit?
and yeah, the recipient of "government" money is a thief. If I steal $1000 from your wallet and invest it in stocks, and those stocks go up, does that mean I have the right to the profits? Fuck no! I used your resources without permission, therefore I was a thief and have no claim to any benefit from the money. And if the stocks went down, I would still owe you $1000 + interest.
Me:"by the homesteading theory, property is unowned until a human infuses it with his labor... ...The native americans did not develop all of america"
This is the classic tale of two groups of humans with two different methods of acquiring food coming into contact. From your perspective, what you say is true because our culture is agricultural. It makes sense to base property rights on these concepts. To the Native Americans, fencing off land that the herds roam is a silly way to do things. Their concept of property was therefore different. The resolution was violence. Be careful what you say, "libertarian".
"...the colonists had no right to take that land."We still benefit from this past theft, and your 'homesteading' theory does not absolve the crime. It does not legitimize the wealth accumulated since. Be careful what you say, "libertarian".
"Regarding slaves, I have never owned slaves, my ancestors have never owned slaves, and slavery was uneconomical."
Your ancestors owned slaves, or, if they did not, they were slave guards, or, if they were not, they benefited from slavery. America as a nation benefited from slavery. It is still benefiting from it. This does not excuse or legitimize it. And I hope by "uneconomical" you mean "cannot last more than 300 years".
"And current industry benefited in no way from slavery."
There is a long chain of effects and causes that goes back to the days of slavery. If you were to follow them from now until then, you would see that current industry must, by the very linear nature of time in connecting these events, benefit from past slavery. In regards to current slavery, look up the prison-industrial complex. You'll notice a fine mixture of capitalism and slavery. Be careful what you say, "libertarian".
"capitalism is founded on the belief that one owns their body and their labor."
Remember that in 1984, language itself became a propaganda tool. The state would change the meanings of words to limit understanding, to change the past and make the proles stupid, disorganized and confused. Capitalism, as you are using the word, is a new definition, and was never that which was used in critiques of it. Also, this new definition is very new, and the old definition was around for at least a hundred years. Would it make sense for the USA, a capitalist country, to redefine the word "capitalism" so as to make it easier for adherents to accept and defend, and harder for opponents to disagree? Is this kind of vocabulary-editing reminiscent of Newspeak? Be careful what you say, "libertarian".
The military-industrial complex (MIC) consumes about half of all taxes. This is not just the departmental stuff, but the companies that design, build, and test weapons. They receive money that comes from taxpayers to make weapons for the government.
A law was passed recently that allowed greater consolidation of "defense" companies, because the US gummint wanted to deal with fewer entities:
"How Did It Happen?
In July 1993, John M. Deutch, then the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, responded to pressure on his boss, William Perry, from the chief executive officers of Martin Marietta, Lockheed, Loral, and Hughes by deciding to allow defense companies to bill the Pentagon for the costs of mergers and acquisitions."Is their wealth legitimate?
If you had a screen on your wall that depicted people who commanded you to perform certain actions, yelled at you to do things, compelled you with fear and emotional manipulation, all while disturbingly aware of what you were doing, is this coercion? More specifically, of the type present in telescreens in 1984?
what is your point? All of these companies are benefiting from the socialistic policies of the US of A. I mean, war is not a capitalistic action, there is no money to be made by killing and destroying things. Only in a socialism does war become profitable, and even then, it's only profitable to the state and defense contractors, suckling on state largess.
In a capitalist society, the capitalist tries to maximize profit by providing the consumer with something they want. the free market discourages all of the manipulations you state, as people are much less productive when they feel manipulated. And what's more, if someone feels manipulated, they can quit and work at a competing firm, or they can start their own business, or they can talk to the person manipulating them.
In a socialism, I cannot talk to the people that manipulate me. I can't talk to the IRS and get them to stop manipulating me. I can't talk to the president and get him to stop trampling my rights. I can't get the government to stop taxing oil, or providing free roads. I can't get the government to stop indoctrinating people with public schooling that leaves people half retarded. In socialism, I have no recourse, as these decisions are forced upon me, backed by the might of a body that claims the right to initiate violence against those that disagree.
Me:"what is your point? All of these companies are benefiting from the socialistic policies of the US of A"Yeah, because the USA is a real socialist country. It is a tendency of capital to accumulate in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Those who wield this power do not confine it to the economic sphere. Top government officials can be very cozy with business interests, often to the detriment of citizens and consumers alike.
"I mean, war is not a capitalistic action, there is no money to be made by killing and destroying things."
Tell that to Dick Cheney. He'll give you a dollar he made by killing and destroying things. But I doubt he even bothers with such small denominations.
"In a capitalist society, the capitalist tries to maximize profit by providing the consumer with something they want."
Pollution prevention measures (like smoke stack scrubbers, water treating and cooling, etc) reduce profits. Do consumers want to suffer the ill effects of industrial pollution? Do both parties benefit? Does the prison-industrial complex profit from obscene federal drug laws? Do all the products listed in ads really reflect the desires of consumers, or are they cleverly designed to make us think we want them? Was there a strong outcry for New Coke? For clear Pepsi? For Jimmy Dean's pancake-wrapped sausage? Are you sure you are not being manipulated to desire these things?
"...the free market discourages all of the manipulations you state, as people are much less productive when they feel manipulated."
You're absolutely right, people are less productive when they feel manipulated. Eric Fromm's idea of 'anonymous' authority comes into play now. Watch a car commercial (on your telescreen - oops! I mean 'television') and listen to what the announcer says: "Get a blah blah... Come on down and buy a blah blah... Drive home with a blah blah..." Did you notice the strong use of the imperative? Rather pompous of him, isn't it? Do you know how much brain power goes to figuring out how to get people to buy things? I mean, real, genuine, this-is-the-way-it-is-because-you-are-a-primate kind of way. You don't stand a chance! I hope I don't need to point out the merging of corporate advertising and government-sponsored propaganda. The point is, what seems like overt and obvious control as depicted in 1984 is actually much more subtle. The idea is to make you think you are in control of your actions and decisions, when really many of your choices are based on previous and continuing conditioning."And what's more, if someone feels manipulated, they can quit and work at a competing firm"
That's right, so if someone at Wal-Mart wants to quit and work at _______ (insert one of the many business still in the area after price gouging), they certainly can. The free market does not guarantee there is always another job. Do you not find it ironic that Wal-Mart, a wonderful example of capitalist success, employs the labour of people who do not have the opportunity to seek employment at another firm? Be careful what you say, "libertarian".
"or they can start their own business"The point you are trying to make is that a state-run command economy would not permit someone to start their own business. You would be correct, but that is not socialism. To address this suggestion in real terms, can someone start a business that is profitable? Is the market always amenable to new, profitable businesses? Is everyone capable of managing a business? Be careful how you use these ideals.
"or they can talk to the person manipulating them."
Can Chinese labourers complain to the managers of state-run factories? Does Wal-Mart employ their labour? Is the wealth acquired through coercion legitimate?
Isn't it a fair trade to give up self-autonomy for material gain? If some commanding entity, like the state, were to offer you some benefit, whether it be in rank, status, and/or wealth, wouldn't it make sense to surrender your decision-making power to receive it?
This is the end of the discussion; I have not heard back from the guy, but do hope he responds.
The discussion was not about arguing for socialism (since the term wasn't clearly defined), but about sticking to dogma and propaganda without critical examination. The paradoxical-seeming support of Orwell and Vonnegut for socialism ought to be a strong indication that the term as they use it is different from the term as we are taught it in public schools. There are misconceptions like this all the time, from people of all political persuasions (and yes, even those who call themselves socialists!), such that an entire discussion can take place in which both parties do nothing but talk past one another, with no true understanding or agreement occurring. It is also disheartening to be subjected to certain "feel good" terms that obfuscate and distort a healthy and useful appraisal of the situation. If we are to concern ourselves with material conditions, we must make observations of material forces, not ideals.