Tag Archives | Socialism

Libertarianism’s Deficient Models of Human Nature and Society

mmw-fair-society-0711Peter Corning writes at Psychology Today (two years ago):

Who can object to the libertarian principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the right to hold property – at least in the abstract?  The problem is that the real world is never “abstract.”  All philosophies must ultimately confront reality, and the more radical versions of libertarianism (there are many, from extreme anarchism to limited government “minarchism”) rely on terminally deficient models of human nature and society.  Let’s (very briefly) take a look at the problem.

The libertarian model of individual psychology is grounded in the utilitarian, neo-classical economics model of “Homo economicus” (economic man).  Our motivations can be reduced to the single-minded pursuit of our (mostly material) self-interests. Accordingly, mainstream economists seem to consider it their mission in life to help us do so more “efficiently.” The Nobel economist Amartya Sen many years ago scathingly characterized this simplistic model as “rational fools who are decked out in their one, all-purpose preference function.”

The selfish actor model of human nature was tacitly endorsed with the rise of “Neo-Darwinism” in evolutionary biology during the 1970s, as epitomized in biologist Richard Dawkins’ famous book The Selfish Gene

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Socialists and the ‘Pet’ Contradiction

sleepwalkers_stephen_king_monster_morphingJon Hochschartner writes at Counterpunch:

Socialists, like everyone else, absorb our culture’s contradictory messages regarding the value of animals. We learn that certain species, such as dogs and cats, should be cherished as members of our families. While other other species, such as pigs and chickens, should be viewed as resources to be exploited. By looking at the relationships between three influential socialists of varying perspectives — Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, and Alexander Berkman — and their companion animals, I’d like to illuminate the irrational positions they held and so many of us continue to hold toward other species.

In 1938 the surrealist writer Andre Breton traveled to Mexico to visit the exiled Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky. As Breton walked with the old Bolshevik, he was disappointed to find that when Trotsky spoke of his dog, “his speech became less precise, his thought less exacting.”

In fact, Breton continues, Trotsky “went so far as to express love for the animal, lending it natural goodness.” Since here Breton uses the impersonal pronoun, which one would apply to non-conscious objects, it should come as no surprise the surrealist argues, “there was something arbitrary about endowing beasts with feelings.”

But Trotsky, apparently, would have none of it.

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Flying Saucers And The Working-Class Struggle

flying saucers and the working-class struggleWondering where socialist revolutionaries stand on the question of alien life? Via Marxists.org, a translation from a pamphlet distributed in 1968 Paris penned by J. Posadas (whose ideology was dubbed Posadism):

Capitalism has no interest in UFOs and, as such, makes no research into them. It has no interest in occupying itself with these matters because they cannot reap profits, nor are they useful to capitalism. But people see in UFOs the possibility of advancement and progress. This thus accelerates the fall of the bourgeoisie, shown in all its uselessness.

All the people who say that they have seen extra-terrestrials, UFOs, coincide in the fact that these beings have not frightened them, and that they have made themselves understood, without using an audible language, showing them that they mean no harm. They do not provoke a feeling of alarm, but of serenity. They create sensations of mellowness, suppleness, harmony, reassurance.

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On The Legacy Of Hugo Chavez

This past fall, the Independent‘s Owen Jones wrote that Hugo Chavez’s towering feat was “proving it is possible to lead a popular, progressive government that breaks with neo-liberal dogma”:

Even opponents of Chavez told me that he is the first Venezuelan president to care about the poor. Since his landslide victory in 1998, extreme poverty has dropped from nearly a quarter to 8.6 per cent last year; unemployment has halved; and GDP per capita has more than doubled. Rather than ruining the economy – as his critics allege – oil exports have surged from $14.4bn to $60bn in 2011, providing revenue to spend on Chavez’s ambitious social programs, the so-called “missions”.

But when it comes to his relationship with his opposition, Chavez has arguably been pretty lenient. Many of them – including [recent presidential opponent] Capriles – were involved in a US-backed, Pinochet-style military coup in 2002, which failed only after Chavez’s supporters took to the streets.

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Hugo No More

Kim Monaghan and I recorded an epic episode of Coincidence Control Network today. It’ll likely go live by Thursday. During the recording Monaghan was moved to declare his love for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. The legally elected Chavez has been vilified as a mad dictator despite the fact that his political roots reach back to his heroic resistance of the former Venezuelan government that ordered soldiers to kill citizens during an uprising.

Tonight, news reports that Chavez has died are all frantically emerging across the mediascape. Chavez had cancer and had contracted a severe infection.

Oliver Stone’s South of the Border (2009) profiles Chavez, picturing a hero of the Venezuelan people who is vilified for his anti-business politics – in other words, he wouldn’t take orders from America. The film also pictures Chavez as the de facto leader of a “pink wave” of socialist leaders who have emerged throughout the region: : Evo Morales of Bolivia; Cristina Kirchner and former president Néstor Kirchner of Argentina; Rafael Correa of Ecuador; Raúl Castro of Cuba; Fernando Lugo of Paraguay; and Lula da Silva of Brazil.… Read the rest

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Putting Socialism Back on the Agenda

Andrew Levine writes at Counterpunch:

Not long ago, in what now seems a different universe, it was still possible to talk about “hope” and “change” without irony.  And only a couple of decades before that, those words meant more than just holding reaction at bay.

Back when there was a flourishing left, “hope” and “change” were about moving the world forward – making the actual approach a rationally defensible ideal.  For more than an entire century, Marxists were preeminent among the forces of forward-looking hope and change.

They disagreed about many things, sometimes bitterly.  But all Marxists believed that socialism was capitalism’s future.  Along with others, they agreed that private ownership of society’s principal means of production would somehow someday give way to social or collective ownership.

Along with Marxism itself, this conviction has fallen on hard times.  The reasons why range from the empirical to the ridiculous to the tragic.

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Want Less Inequality? Tax It

Wikimedia Commons (CC)

British economist Arthur C. Pigou, friend and contemporary of beloved John Maynard Keynes, eventually not only came around to the Keynesian logic, but also expanded on the common-sense philosophy to promote social balance and checks with the gentle, invisible hand of the Public. By incentivizing what benefits the downtrodden (perhaps with subsidies) and disincentivizing poor practices (by taxing rampant, unregulated profits), a more reasonable parity between the classes could be reached, stimulating economic growth and benefiting everyone.

This doesn’t have to be a ‘redistributive’ scheme that pits neoconservatives against progressives. Indeed, such a rational, gradated, and bracketed system makes sense to anyone who believes in the American traditions of pragmatism, equality, openness, innovation and opportunity.

Via the American Prospect by Liam C. Malloy and John Case

But the conventional strategy for fighting inequality—far higher taxes on the rich—usually rests on a foundation of fairness, and the question of what’s fair and what’s unfair turns out to cut different ways, depending on your point of view.

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