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The Philosophy of Socialism

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Willy Truth Posted: Fri, May 18 2012 1:00 PM

This is a philosophical discussion topic, and something that has long bothered me but has recently been nagging at me after reading in depth about Hunter S. Thompson--how could someone so awesome and apparently anti-authoritarian end up becoming a pseudo-Marxist? I have a problem understanding this same phenomenon with many other cultural and intellectual icons and it led me to the following question: 

Why, in your opinion, do so many intelligent and respectable people embrace socialism and/or reject free enterprise? What is the basest point of a person's fundamental belief system that leads them to acclaim Marxism and reject the tenets of a free market?

Basically, why are we on this side and so many more on the other side--and where do we really diverge from one another from a philosophical standpoint?

 

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I don't think it's quite as philosophical as you think.

For starters, the state and state-worshipping philosophies (Marxism tries to reject the state while simultaneously accepting most of its principles) have an unfair advantage from the start. I don't think it can be understated how significant it is that public schools teach, basically, that voluntary trade with your fellow humans is dangerous, unjust, and/or leading to bad outcomes. Of course, what's the solution to the vices of voluntary trade? Public schooling will tell you from a very early age that the solution is the state. 

And it's not just the teaching on political matters. I think public schooling in general has a huge bias towards teaching conclusions, rather than method. This is a rejection of logic, the core skill you'd need to have in order to understand and accept capitalism, etc.

That sets the groundwork (and by groundwork, I mean literally the structure by which most people will analyze social interaction in the future - it's a bias taught at arguably the most important point in an individual's life, and has damning repercussions). 

Then, add in public funding to Marxists, Fed economists, etc., and you've created a structure of some of the most intelligent people, the majority of which are state-worshippers. 

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Kmelfina replied on Fri, May 18 2012 1:30 PM

It just seems easy to doubt the good of human nature and claim comparative well being of one human to another as 'oppression'.  Which is why I always see the words "working class", "slave wages" etc are always part of the dialogue when talking to socialists. I wish I could find that youtube video that explains why socialism is popular among people.  I just wonder what anyone with pseudo-socialist tendencies is trying to say "those with more should give it up to those who don't have regardless of status for the sake of equality among all people". 

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This kind of goes along with this thread I recently started...mostly with the part about Hayek addressing this very issue (links to related posts there).

Bill Whittle actually had a nice summarization of Thomas Sowell's thesis from A Conflict of Visions that speaks to this...

 

I think this issue is something that was articulated pretty well by Hayek, which I brought up here and here.  From that first link:

 

Originally I couldn't fathom that such smart people could think such stupid things, but the more I've dealt with these people the more I've come to agree with Hayek's assessment, although I still struggle with this.

 

In the beginning of the video Bork brings up the fact that he noticed what he calls an enormous resistance by very bright people, to what are fairly basic and simple ideas of economics. His conclusion was the possibility that something more than intellectual error is at work...and he even uses the word "sinister". Hayek's response is that it is quite understandable that intellectuals would reject that which they did not understand...that which was unintelligible to them. This is the part I have a problem with, which I'll get to shortly...

But his point is much clearer and more compelling by the end of the clip...his feeling is that intellectuals operate under the notion that nothing can be good unless it can be demonstrated that in that particular case it achieves a good object, which of course is impossible, because a social subject like economics can only be understood in principle but not in detail.  (Which kind of goes to a sort of deductive reasoning versus empiricism point).

I have to admit when I first saw that interview I didn't have the same take on it.  I even found it a bit difficult to follow.  As time has progressed I find I can much better appreciate the optimism and brilliance of his last statement: "I think I would give them the benefit of the doubt at least...I think in most instances it is a deeply ingrained intellectual attitude which forces them to disapprove of something which is unintelligible and to prefer something which is visibly directed to a good purpose."

That I understand and can (at least to some degree) buy as a viable reasoning for the animosity and belligerence of statists. It would certainly explain the overwhelming acceptance of so many government programs.

But what I still have trouble with is the idea that the alternative is unintelligible to them.

I have a hard time understanding how things as simple as the broken window fallacy could be so blatantly invoked.  But people like Fool on the Hill make a really strong case for the notion that yes, they actually don't understand...and actually do believe what they are saying.

 

This to me seems to be the biggest hurdle to reaching Leftists.  They don't understand how the market works, so they are inclined to favor things that are "visibly directed to a good purpose", that is, they care about and are largely focused on intentions...even to the neglect of results.

 

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Pro government information in government sanctioned syllabus and government controlled media creates anti-capitalist mentality within the population. The anti-capitalist mentality leads to socialist/marxist tendencies and a general pro government sentiment. I also think it is more often than not just a lack of alternative information.

By the time people eventually do come across alternative information, they are so set in their ideology that they lack the humility to change their entire ideology. Especially as it often requires changing your ideology to the complete opposite. It also makes it more difficult to change your ideology to one that is in direct contrast to your current ideology. It is one thing to change your ideology but it is something else to change it to an ideology that is directly opposite to your current ideology.

I noticed this when explaining opposition towards IP and patent law to people in conversation. My arguments were often in direct contradiction to their arguments. They would say that IP helps innovation and I would explain how IP does not help innovation. I would explain how IP creates monopolies and they would argue that IP helps competition. This would go on with all their arguments, often requiring them to change their opinion to the direct opposite to what they held. This is not always the case with all topics, some topics people have a similar argument it is only slightly mistaken.

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mustang19 replied on Fri, May 18 2012 6:43 PM

Why, in your opinion, do so many intelligent and respectable people embrace socialism and/or reject free enterprise? What is the basest point of a person's fundamental belief system that leads them to acclaim Marxism and reject the tenets of a free market?

Generally, they don't. You just don't hear about the moderate ones because they're boring.

As for artists and academics tending to be liberal, I guess that people who gain more prestige from their social status than financial status are more butthurt toward the financially wealthy, and vice versa.

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Lewis S. replied on Fri, May 18 2012 6:53 PM

I'd also throw in this thought:

The tradition of liberalism in the classical sense has been one of anti-power. But historically, the source of this power has been the state. In the early modern era and into the nineteenth century, it was well understood that massive amounts of wealth were gained and secured using political authority. Although capitalism and free markets threatened to break down that order, the rise of the corporatist state (the state entering into partnership with capital) muddled this conception, and by the turn of the twentieth century an increasing number of individuals, rightly opposed to political authority, saw it as inextricably linked to capitalism, and voices for traditional liberalism (William Graham Sumner and his like) were drowned out. This Marxian view of "capitalism" was etched into the dialectic of a tradition which had a healthy suspicion for centralized political authority, and I think this is one reason we have such types (like Thompson). We all know the confusion it wreaks today.

This doesn't hold true for all Marxist-types, of course, but it does for some.

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In my experience it's due to a number of reasons. The first is morals, it's been engrained in them that welfare state is positive and they can see the effects of it (people recieving aid). The second is due to a lack of understanding of econ. and any one that does was taught at a keynesian school.

Among academia, the free market challenges their way of life. I think they also suffer from the paralysis of analysis and look at deduction as "unscientific" or "simple". This often stems from the average teachers lack of knowledge in other areas of study ie Environmentalists that don't understand property rights or why ownership helps conservation. They only know one avenue of thought.

For most Marxists, they've only read the Communist Manifesto and have little knowledge of his econ.

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John James replied on Fri, May 18 2012 10:03 PM

mustang19:
As for artists and academics tending to be liberal, I guess that people who gain more prestige from their social status than financial status are more butthurt toward the financially wealthy, and vice versa.

Peter Klein had a good piece speaking to this aspect...

Why Intellectuals Still Support Socialism

 

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mustang19 replied on Sat, May 19 2012 11:44 AM

Hayek argues that exceptionally intelligent people who favor the market tend to find opportunities for professional and financial success outside the Academy (i.e., in the business or professional world). Those who are highly intelligent but ill-disposed toward the market are more likely to choose an academic career. For this reason, the universities come to be filled with those intellectuals who were favorably disposed toward socialism from the beginning.

That's why Warren Buffet is such a libertarian.

Zing!

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Will T:

This is a philosophical discussion topic, and something that has long bothered me but has recently been nagging at me after reading in depth about Hunter S. Thompson--how could someone so awesome and apparently anti-authoritarian end up becoming a pseudo-Marxist? I have a problem understanding this same phenomenon with many other cultural and intellectual icons and it led me to the following question: 

Why, in your opinion, do so many intelligent and respectable people embrace socialism and/or reject free enterprise? What is the basest point of a person's fundamental belief system that leads them to acclaim Marxism and reject the tenets of a free market?

Basically, why are we on this side and so many more on the other side--and where do we really diverge from one another from a philosophical standpoint?

In my experience, people become socialists or believe in socialism for two reasons:

1) They believe utopia is not only possible but practical. Of course, anything is possible, but I mean that they not only hold that utopia is realistic when we capitalists know that it isn't. Granted there are varying degrees of the definition of utopia, most would say that it is a state of collective peace and no suffering. Capitalists, though, realize that competition is not only natural, it's a good thing. Utopia is appealing to lazy people or to people who believe that intentions determine results, which leads me to my next classification.

2) They are non-consequentialists, meaning that they value intentions over actions. Intentions, though, determine nothing. Action determines everything. Intentions matter, but only in the social world. Thus socialists, who believe government interference and central control of the free market are necessary for survival and happiness, ultimately have a goal of communism, whereby a lack of property somehow convinces people to ignore their competitive natures and thereby collective happiness will reign.

It is the same with economics. While I'm a neophyte to Austrian economics, I comprehend the basis to it: there is a practical approach to the market, where in the free market, if people want purple widgets, then someone will manufacture purple widgets. However socialists, or more specifically utopians, maintain that human nature can be controlled through external factors; that will is not free, and that happiness can be determined through interference, and they believe that if the government starts promoting green widgets, let's say, that the consumers will want green widgets and stop wanting purple widgets.

That is the most basic distinction I can offer.

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mustang19:
Hayek argues that exceptionally intelligent people who favor the market tend to find opportunities for professional and financial success outside the Academy (i.e., in the business or professional world). Those who are highly intelligent but ill-disposed toward the market are more likely to choose an academic career. For this reason, the universities come to be filled with those intellectuals who were favorably disposed toward socialism from the beginning.
That's why Warren Buffet is such a libertarian.  Zing!

Can you say, "non sequitur"?

 

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mustang19 replied on Mon, May 21 2012 1:50 PM

I think it's study time again.

We find that cognitive abilities, educational attainment, and some personality traits in-
directly aff ect ideological preferences through changes in income. The e ffects of changes in
personality traits on ideology directly and indirectly through income are in the same direc-
tion. However, the indirect e ects of cognitive abilities and education often o ffset the direct
eff ects of these variables on ideological preferences. That is, increases in cognitive abilities
and education signi cantly increase income, which reduces the tendency of individuals to
express leftist preferences. These indirect e ffects are in some cases sizeable relative to direct
eff ects. The indirect e ects of cognitive abilities through income overwhelm the direct ef-
fects such that increasing IQ increases rightwing preferences.

For ideological preferences over economic policy the indirect e ffects of advanced education also overwhelm the direct e ffects, such that individuals with higher education are more likely to express rightwing preferences than those with lower education.

So conservatives are more intelligent, but only because they have more money. Take a poor genius like Hunter S. Thompson, or one who doesn't care much for money like Albert Einstein, and you end up with the much-dreaded intelligent liberal.

edit:

However, we nd some di erences from previous research. Notably, we nd that Extraver-
sion (BigFiveE) has no apparent direct e ect on our ideology measures with the exception of
Econ2, where we nd the expected negative relationship22 and that higher levels of Agreeable-
ness (BigFiveA) have a signi cantly positive direct e ect on all four of our ideology measures,
not just the ones related to economic policy...

Looking at personality traits, left leaning individuals tend to display higher...  neuroticism. They are also lazier (less conscientious). At the same time, they score higher in openess to experience (associated with intelligence).

The overall relation between penis size- sorry, IQ- and political beliefs appears to be nil when all this is controlled for.

 

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Rorschach replied on Mon, May 21 2012 2:43 PM

 

In contrast, individuals who are high on Openness have been shown to be significantly more likely to be left-leaning, vote for leftist parties, and support leftist economic policies. The reasoning given for this relationship is that individuals who are high on Openness are more likely to be accepting of new ideas and proposals that overturn traditional and existing ones.

So if society were more of an "egalitarian society" in its default state, would those who are high on Openness be more open to concepts such as segregation and racism?

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mustang19 replied on Mon, May 21 2012 2:51 PM

So if society were more of an "egalitarian society" in its default state, would those who are high on Openness be more open to concepts such as segregation and racism?

No, and you outsmarted me. I'm not sure where you're trying to go there.

 

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Rorschach replied on Mon, May 21 2012 6:20 PM

In contrast, individuals who are high on Openness have been shown to be significantly more likely to be left-leaning, vote for leftist parties, and support leftist economic policies. The reasoning given for this relationship is that individuals who are high on Openness are more likely to be accepting of new ideas and proposals that overturn traditional and existing ones.

^This is from the study you linked to.  In the "big five" personality test, openness is linked with being "more likely to hold unconventional beliefs", whereas closed personalities are "conservative and resistant to change".  I'm curious whether this is means that people with "open" personalities are simply products of social conventions, going against them regardless of what they are.  And vice versa with "closed" personalities, that they are more likely to simply accept the status quo.

Are "open" personalities necessarily linked with what we now call "leftist" beliefs, or do their personal convictions come out of some sort of contempt with society as it is?  Social conventions change over time, so if the "new ideas and proposals" supported by "open" personalities are put into place, do the new open personalities support the status quo or do they oppose the ideas supported by open personalities of previous generations?

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There are two main types of socialist.  One is the narcissistic jerk that wants to stamp everyone else into his own image.  The other is the mediocre man that can't visualize his own rise to the upper class.  They are personality opposites and take a different view of their own role and the role of others.  The former sees himself as an administrator of the system.  The latter sees himself as a beneficiary.

As for Warren Buffett, he is about the most over-estimated person since Christ.  His investment advice in his book is basic.  He actually claims to be inherently endowed with exceptional capital allocation skill.  Brb.  Dying of laughter.  Of course, he can't prove that he isn't a case of random outlier.  But, why should he care?  He makes most of his money doing interviews for the idiots that believe him.  Almost every time I've heard him speak he says things about various topics so stupid that I can't stand the sight of him anymore.

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mustang19 replied on Mon, May 21 2012 6:45 PM

Are "open" personalities necessarily linked with what we now call "leftist" beliefs, or do their personal convictions come out of some sort of contempt with society as it is?  Social conventions change over time, so if the "new ideas and proposals" supported by "open" personalities are put into place, do the new open personalities support the status quo or do they oppose the ideas supported by open personalities of previous generations?

Good question. I don't know. The study focused on simple economic questions and party choice. Whether or not you consider left parties to be supporting the "status quo" depends on your opinion. In any case, these open personalities tend to vote for socialist type parties, and that's all the study can give us. Maybe you can go on Democratic Underground and start a survey and compare the results to Mises posters.

Openness as a personality characteristic isn't defined as opposition to old ideas or acceptance of new ones. Specifically, the full personality trait is called "openness to experience", and only refers to individual's willingness and interest in engaging in new activities and trying new things. So it doesn't even directly relate to politics. I wouldn't be surprised if both far left and classical liberal individuals both showed openness to experience. But as far as I know, that's too obscure a topic for anyone to have studied. You're on your own there if you want to do original research.

There are two main types of socialist.  One is the narcissistic jerk that wants to stamp everyone else into his own image.  The other is the mediocre man that can't visualize his own rise to the upper class.  They are personality opposites and take a different view of their own role and the role of others.  The former sees himself as an administrator of the system.  The latter sees himself as a beneficiary.

Have you met a lot of socialists? There's also type #3, "pothead."

If it's any consolation, Warren Buffet isn't a particularly Stalinist central planning advocate and doesn't want to be put in charge of deciding every resource allocation decision in the economy.

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Have you met a lot of socialists? There's also type #3, "pothead."

That would probably fall mostly under resignation to mediocrity.

If it's any consolation, Warren Buffet isn't a particularly Stalinist central planning advocate and doesn't want to be put in charge of deciding every resource allocation decision in the economy.

He seems mainly interested in living out his days going around roleplaying as someone with special wisdom.

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Autolykos replied on Tue, May 22 2012 8:02 AM

There's a lot that I'd like to reply to in this thread. cheeky

For starters...

NonAntiAnarchist:
(Marxism tries to reject the state while simultaneously accepting most of its principles)

Marxism (along with anarcho-communism, at least) doesn't reject the state as we (i.e. voluntaryists/anarcho-capitalists) define it. Marxism defines "state" as "instrument of class rule", where "class rule" means "one class ruling over all others". So the capitalist state is the instrument of the capitalist class ruling over all other classes (e.g. the proletariat and the peasantry). With this view, the state ceases to exist when class rule ceases to exist. Of course, what Marxism wants to come aftewards is still what we would call a state, but Marxism calls it an "administrative apparatus".

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Autolykos replied on Tue, May 22 2012 8:16 AM

John, thank you very much for linking that video - I found it to be a fascinating watch. What Hayek talks about resonates with me. I think he's spot-on about the "intelligibility problem". In fact, I'd like to take it a step further - I think many (if not most) people reject and resist that which is unintelligible to them. It might even be a universal human tendency. So for me the question becomes, what do people find intelligible and why?

With that in mind, I think Bastiat's parable of the broken window is actually a perfect example of this issue. People quite often fail to take into account "that which is not seen". But why? All I can offer at the moment is that it seems to be due to a lack of critical thinking. Ironically, even university-educated academics are guilty of this today. I attribute it to a highly authoritarian education schooling system that inculcates blind obedience, thereby diminishing their need to rely on critical thinking.

Interestingly enough, I've had the most success reaching people when I talk to them about money - how it originated and how it's developed over time. The notion of money as simply being the most marketable commodity seems to be very intuitive for most people, if explained in terms that they can already understand (i.e. without any "jargon"). However, the implications of this might be more difficult for them to accept, for other reasons that I'll get into later.

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Autolykos replied on Tue, May 22 2012 8:21 AM

Jack Roberts:
Pro government information in government sanctioned syllabus and government controlled media creates anti-capitalist mentality within the population. The anti-capitalist mentality leads to socialist/marxist tendencies and a general pro government sentiment. I also think it is more often than not just a lack of alternative information.

By the time people eventually do come across alternative information, they are so set in their ideology that they lack the humility to change their entire ideology. Especially as it often requires changing your ideology to the complete opposite. It also makes it more difficult to change your ideology to one that is in direct contrast to your current ideology. It is one thing to change your ideology but it is something else to change it to an ideology that is directly opposite to your current ideology.

I noticed this when explaining opposition towards IP and patent law to people in conversation. My arguments were often in direct contradiction to their arguments. They would say that IP helps innovation and I would explain how IP does not help innovation. I would explain how IP creates monopolies and they would argue that IP helps competition. This would go on with all their arguments, often requiring them to change their opinion to the direct opposite to what they held. This is not always the case with all topics, some topics people have a similar argument it is only slightly mistaken.

This is why, when people are able to understand something, they may still reject and resist it. Basically this is the sunk-cost fallacy. "I've believed in X for so long/my entire life, I can't give it up now!" People don't want to feel like they've wasted so much time and effort on something that turned out to be an illusion. Unfortunately, I think this is an innate human tendency. Enhancement of critical thinking skills could help though.

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bloomj31 replied on Tue, May 22 2012 12:17 PM

Caley McKibbin:
 One is the narcissistic jerk that wants to stamp everyone else into his own image.  The other is the mediocre man that can't visualize his own rise to the upper class.  They are personality opposites and take a different view of their own role and the role of others.  The former sees himself as an administrator of the system.  The latter sees himself as a beneficiary.

I actually feel like I alternate between these two viewpoints.  At once I have the desire for power and on the other hand I have a distinct feeling I'll never get it because I know I'm not particularly exceptional in any of the relevant fields.

Anyways, there is some difficulty in determining whether or not I'm a net beneficiary to socialism in America though I tend to think I am.  Unfortunately I really don't know where the break even point is on government services vs taxation level.

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Cortes replied on Fri, May 25 2012 6:11 PM

I've noticed that a lot of liberals apparently don't even understand what socialism implies half of the time. By this I mean how so many panties get in a bunch whenever someone describes Bush, Obama's policies as socialist. I've even had the pleasure of being told that socialized healthcare isn't socialist.

It's that type of confused liberalism that gets incredibly defensive and uncomfortable realizing the implications of their own ideas.

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