Sunday, February 05, 2017

the death of Venezuela

I've been following this since the Hugo Chavez/Sean Penn love-in era.

Utterly tragic.

Mao supposedly said, "Religion is poison."

I say: centralization is poison.

From the video: "If people knew what socialism was, this wouldn't have happened."

Pro-socialist attitudes are usually found among those with no actual experience of full-on socialism—the same people who casually dismiss the tragic testimony of the ragged, ravaged souls who have managed to escape hell.

I'm curious what my buddy Steve thinks of the situation in Venezuela. At a guess, he'll say either that it's not as bad as all that, or that it's bad because of outside capitalist forces—the same line Chavez himself took. But you can't thump your chest about how robust socialism is while simultaneously implying that capitalism is even more robust.


  1. "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." – Margaret Thatcher

  2. Two words that prove socialism will never work: Human nature.

  3. As it happens, I'm not a die-hard socialist. I think there are a number of social programs that are necessary and beneficial. At some level, roads, schools, and the fire department are socialized. But to socialize everything won't change the overall situation.

    But, the idea that human nature prevents socialism (or the advanced placement version of socialism, communism) from working on anything but paper seems about right. People are simultaneously generous and greedy, but we're generous in the specific and greedy in the general. Biologically, I don't know if it's something we can overcome any time soon. On the lowest and basest of levels, I want to survive and want to ensure that my children survive, and if that happens at the cost of someone else's survival, well, biology wins.

    There needs to be balance. The question is where is the best place to put the fulcrum in that social/private seesaw. I don't have the answer. What we've seen through human history is a lot of wrong places to put the fulcrum, and overwhelming socialism is a wrong place.

  4. Steve,

    Thanks for the comment. In the abstract, if socialism is an articulation of the human urge to share, then perhaps it can serve some use in modern society because humans do naturally share, engage in mutual/reciprocal behavior, and so on. (But more fundamentally, with nature being red in tooth and claw, humans compete for space and resources like the rest of the planet's biomass. Nature is the opposite of harmonious.)

    Other commenters have argued, in these threads, that social programs can be better solutions to certain widespread problems than either private programs or programs that arise at the local level. I'm not totally convinced by this contention; government programs often seem to be administered incompetently, and the problem of ponderous, Byzantine bureaucracy only gets worse as the population increases.

    But maybe a mix of economic philosophies is the best we can hope for. America's not a purely free market by any means. That said, I'm a free-marketer, a capitalist, and a believer in Smith's "invisible hand," but I'm not so naive as to believe these things are purely salubrious. Every system has its flaws. Like you, though, I can affirm that "overwhelming socialism is a wrong place."

    We could zoom back and say, cosmically and abstractly, that too much of anything is a bad thing, but the point—for me at least—is to look at the track record of mostly socialist (or centrally planned) economies versus mostly capitalist economies throughout history and to see a clear disparity. That infamous satellite photo of the Korean peninsula at night is the most powerful argument against central planning that I can think of.

  5. The problem with bureaucracy isn't (in my opinion) specifically that it is ponderous or Byzantine. I see those as symptoms of what the real problem is--and it's the same problem I see in politics on both sides today. It's that it attempts to put everyone into the same cookie cutter mold, and most of us simply don't fit. The minute we say something along the lines of "all people need..." or the equivalent, we've lost nuance, and the world is nuance.

    Bureaucracy does this, and we do this to each other. The minute we start saying things like "Well, you're a _________, so you must think _________," we've killed the chance for nuance and discussion and killed the chance for reaching a real solution. I'm sure that things have always been this way, but the rise of social media has made it more and more evident that our political climate is little more than the genetic fallacy on both sides. We've started hating ideas not because of what those ideas are, but because of where those ideas come from.

    If you're going to disagree with an idea because it comes from socialism (and I'm not saying you specifically are--this is the general "you'), then you've ignored what could be a good and workable idea simply because you don't like its source. That's a problem, and it's one that people on both sides of the political aisle are guilty of.

    As an example, to say that all socialist ideas are bad ones would be to say that we should have never pursued rural electrification and that we should disband fire departments and libraries. These are beneficial things and came at least in part from socialist ideas.

    I'm a bigger fan of finding what works and using reason and evidence to inform those decisions. Ideology isn't that important to me.

  6. It's not bad to want more nuance and contextualization, but this should never be at the expense of recognizing that there are indeed general truths. So much PoMo thinking is devoted to resisting "totalizing metanarratives" that it's impossible to say anything general at all—at least, when it comes to the PoMo crowd. So while you've successfully pointed out the long cliff-plunge that awaits us on one side of the narrow, windy mountain path, I'm pointing out the plunge on the other side. A happy medium between nuance/contextualization and generality/universalism would be nice. Neither of these things is inherently evil. As Buddhists would say: not-good, not-bad.

    ..."Well, you're a _________, so you must think _________," we've killed the chance for nuance and discussion and killed the chance for reaching a real solution.

    I think it'd be great if both sides could agree to treat each other as individuals, not as members of groups—groups about which we've already made assumptions. That way lies identity politics.

  7. For what it's worth, we're in as much agreement as we can possibly be on this. I think we all need to stop making assumptions about each other, particularly when we have not indication of what the other person might actually think on a particular issue.

    And yes, there's a steep and spiky drop on both sides. Falling into either one leaves us just as dead.

  8. I think it'd be great if both sides could agree to treat each other as individuals, not as members of groups—groups about which we've already made assumptions.

    But that statement is itself founded on a giant assumption: That individualism is superior to groupism. It is a projection of Western values upon the entirety of humanity, much of which is decidedly collectivistic. See, for example, The Geography of Thought, which demonstrates pretty clearly that Japanese, Korean and Chinese societies are all, to varying degrees, groupist at the end of the day.

    Most of humanity is tribal. The great error of European "social democracies" like Germany, France and Sweden is that they, too, have assumed that millions of tribalistic refugees and immigrants from the Middle East and Africa share their own Western civic values, which operate under kind of dialectic between individualism and commitment to the "great good." However, in-group ethnic or religious preference will generally win out in individualistic Western societies, which are themselves too ethnocentrically naive to understand that not everyone shares their oh-so-enlightened "universal values."

    Multiculturalism will never work if not everyone is committed to the same "universal values" and "greater good" of a particular society. Obama found that the best way to shore up his own political capital was to cater to the African-American community (for example by legitimizing BLM, itself founded mostly on lies), which in turn alienated many whites and brought race relations to their lowest point in decades. In theory, his vision of a "postracial America" was a nice ideal, but in reality it just didn't quite seem to work out.

    In a similar way, are millions of Muslims coming to Europe because they really care about "German values" or "Swedish culture," or for other, more self-interested reasons? Time will only tell, but I think the evidence is already pretty clear to anyone who's actually paying attention.

    Thus, we are back again to human nature: Multiculturalism and socialism (or social democracy) are essentially incompatible, and many millions in places like Canada and the UK are going to have to suffer until their misguided leaders learn otherwise. And by then, it may just be too late.

  9. Scott,

    But that statement is itself founded on a giant assumption: That individualism is superior to groupism. It is a projection of Western values upon the entirety of humanity, much of which is decidedly collectivistic.

    I find little to disagree with here, but I also see no sin in thinking like a Westerner because I'm Western. Note, too, that what you're critiquing is a wish, not a statement of how things actually are. In the meantime, I'd suggest that values-projection is all we have: we're inevitably the product of our perspective (viz. Nicholas Rescher and his concept of orientational pluralism).

    True fairness, when it comes to how cultures evaluate each other, would be for everyone to be free to evaluate the Other through the lens of his own culture. The PC crowd won't have this, of course: they're willing to allow other cultures to judge the West according to those cultures' own standards, but the PCers won't tolerate the West's judging of other cultures because, from the PC point of view, the West is the root of all global evil.

    As for axiology: the whole point about having values is that, if you truly hold to those values, then you assume and affirm that they must hold universally, not just for certain groups of people. In my own field of religious studies, we see this when talking about religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue: a relativist would try to argue that a certain religion's values apply only to members of that religion and aren't meant to apply more widely, but to adopt this stance, the relativist has to do lexical violence to the concept of values.

    Values are always and forever universal, or they're not values. (That even applies to, "My core value is that values aren't universal." That non-universality will inevitably apply universally.) A liberal Christian might want to say, "I'm a Christian, but I'd never impose my values on non-Christians," but it goes against Christian doctrine to say that Christ died only for Christians. By the same token, if Buddhists say that reality has the character of sunyata (emptiness), then that insight applies to all reality, not merely to the space surrounding Buddhists. Values are essentially hegemonic.

    So thank you for pointing out my universalistic assumption, but I gladly embrace it. It's not my job, as a Westerner, to constantly practice Husserl's epoche and forever put myself in others' shoes. Sure, I can do that every once in a while, but even then, I can never do it completely: you can't take the West out of the Westerner (not even if s/he's a weeaboo).

    By the way, I'm generally a fan of Richard Nisbett. Good on you for citing him.

  10. Yes, I agree that the West should be more adamant about insisting that immigrants assimilate to its core values if they wish to live within its societies. However, it seems to have lost its confidence to do so of late. There are a number of theories as to why this is so, but here's a start:

    Yuri Bezmenov: Deception Was My Job

    I can testify to having hippie parents who were definitely influenced by the kind of "strategy of demoralization" of which Bezmenov speaks. And yet, even after fifty years, they still don't really get what actually happened to them. The problem with far too many Americans is that they're rather sheltered and naive, and don't really understand how the wider world operates.

  11. I wonder what Yuri would have thought of this ad:

    84 Lumber Super Bowl Commercial - The Journey Begins

    Hey, let's flood the evil capitalist West with so many saintly migrants and refugees from the Third World that eventually the whole damn system collapses. What better way to "redistribute the wealth" around the world, and create a borderless "one world utopia" managed by a few elite "central planners" at the top of it all?

    I dare say, Yuri, it does sound rather familiar, doesn't it?



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