Open Letter to the Americans: Communism is Socialism But Socialism Isn’t Necessarily Communism

Political leaders, particularly ones from the Republican Party (but not exclusively), misrepresent socialism whenever they get a chance. They use the “S” word to scare you; they bring up horror stories about Stalinist Russia, gulags, and the specter of communism. (I don’t know how many times I’ve heard them use a failed state like Venezuela as an example of what socialism gets you. What they should do is show you what a successful socialist country looks like.) Canada is socialist. So is France, Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Norway, Finland and a half dozen other countries in Europe alone. Australia and New Zealand are socialist. Citizens living in socialist countries enjoy higher standards of living than people residing in the United States; and every single country I mentioned is a genuine democracy where people are free to own private property, marry who they want, practice a religion (or not) if they want, participate in elections, form political parties, and so on and so forth.

Communism is one of many forms of socialism; it is accurate to say communism is socialism. However, it is not accurate to say socialism is necessarily communism. This is because there are different types of socialism (communism being only one kind). When most people hear the word “socialism” it is actually being used in reference to something called Fabianism; this word is an allusion to the “delay tactics” used to slow the invading armies of Carthage by the Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximum Verrucosus (280-203 BCE) during the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE). Fabians reject the revolutionary doctrines of Marxism, recommending instead a gradual transition to a socialist—or more equitable—society. Fabians do not want to abolish private property or do away with fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech. On the contrary, Fabian socialists (or “socialists”) are trying to mitigate some of the worse aspects of capitalism—like exploitation and massive wealth inequality—by introducing social reforms like progressive taxation, enacting minimum wage laws, improving working conditions, and guaranteeing the right of workers to bargain collectively and to strike.

I wrote this because I’ve heard even Democrats (e.g. presidential candidate Julian Castro) conflate “socialism” with “communism”. The Demorats are supposed to be the “reasonable” ones but they appear to be just as ignorant of it as any Republican.

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Trump: We Need to Get Rid of Judges

Donald Trump observes “we have to get rid of the judges.”

Trump, in particular, was elected as a “man of action.” Laws get in the way of action. However, it is false and stupid to assume action for action’s sake will always be undertaken in the interest of the People. Laws are supposed to get n the way so that actions taken are well-considered and appropriate. The political philosopher John Locke observed that the freest societies were the ones with the fewest laws. So, yes, there’s something to be said about avoiding over-regulation. Locke also argued that a government could only govern if it had the confidence of the People, i.e. it had to rule with the interests of the People as a whole in mind (and not just one affluent tribe).

Experience and logic tell us that if a corporation can cut costs (thereby maximizing profits) by polluting the environment, it will; thus, regulation is required. Governments have used political power to marginalize minorities, e.g. the Jim Crow laws and segregation laws in the American South. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued this made the law an “instrument of power, not justice.” The law is supposed to be, in principle, a reflection of the fundamental principles of justice, e.g. no one is above the law and it is consistently applied on the basis of stare decisis (precedent).

Laws are necessary. Judges are necessary to interpret those laws because, in the great scheme of things, the average person lacks power and needs to be protected from a resource rich government and wealthy corporations.

The judicial branch developed out of the Western tradition as a foil to the executive branch in order to preserve the rule of law, e.g. think of how wise it is to not have all the decision-making power located in one branch of government. We separate different aspects of decision-making power–the Legislative Branch passes laws, the Executive Branch enforces those laws, and the Judiciary interprets those laws and their application–to prevent any one segment of society from dominating another.

Government action must conform with the law which itself reflects broadly what kind of society the People want to live in; that is, presidents and prime ministers cannot just make up the rules as they go along. Trudeau can’t place political pressure on Canada’s Attorney General to render this or that decision. Trump does not get to spend money unless he first has Congressional approval to do so.

Getting rid of judges might make it easier for a leader to do whatever they want, but that is the point: the People, if they are wise, do not want the leader to get to do whatever he/she wants to do when they want to do it. This is the form dictatorship takes, not democracy. If you value freedom, better still if you understand liberty, you must appreciate the importance of placing reasonable limitations on governments, corporations and individuals through the law.

Societies dominated by men of action, so-called, devolve into societies governed by the rule of caprice, e.g. kings in the 13th through to the 17th century in Great Britain ruled absolutely without consulting the People. The People rose up through the English Civil War and, only after constitutional limits were placed on the monarch, was the king restored to power.

The rule of caprice is characteristic of fascist states like Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s. Abraham Lincolon tells us what such societies look like when he said “perfect liberty for the wolves means death to the sheep.”

We need judges. Who knew? Sad.

Catz and Marx

John Steinbeck made a pretty nifty observation: he said socialism never took root in America because the poor never saw themselves as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. I suppose this is why so many of them oppose progressive tax reform that would be in their interest to support.

American culture is so hostile to the idea of limits, i.e. Marx was surely right when he called capitalism a “machine for demolishing limits.” It does a pretty bang-up job demolishing planets, as well.

And now for the obligatory cat picture…with an ideological twist.

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Fascism 101: Pay Attention to Trump’s Quirks

President Trump recently claimed that the noise from wind mills cause cancer. Quirky opinion. He is full of quirky opinions, really. But people continue supporting him, overlooking his “quirks” because he promises to do some things they want. I don’t blame the people who support him who want a job. Not one bit. Completely understandable. I wonder, though: is it possible to elect and support someone who can get things done without simultaneously undoing 200 plus years of liberal democracy?

I hate the comparison (because I feel like it’s intellectually lazy) but, in all honesty, there are some parallels to draw with Germany’s situation in 1933: Hitler’s “excesses” (a synonym for “quirks”) were tolerated by the business class because he promised to put labor unions in their place (thus maximizing profits); the army looked past Hitler’s quirks because he promised to rebuilt the military (something the “weak kneed” Wiemar Republicans refused to do). Vice-Chancellor von Papen, and President Hindenburg particularly, looked past Hitler’s quirks because he would bring order to disorder (or make “Germany Great Again” (a trope Hitler literally used)). He quickly outsmarted both men and was dictator within a year of being made chancellor.

As it turns out, those “quirks” everyone seems to conveniently look past are kind of telling: they reveal what’s going on or not going on in the mind of that person you are supporting with such unqualified loyalty. Oh, I don’t support Trump, he’s cRaZy, but I like what he’s doing. So what is he doing?

Fascism is an insidious thing: democracies can evolve into them (as was the case with Wiemar Germany in the 1930s and Italy in the 1920s). Democracies die the death of 1000 wounds. Every time you look past a quirk because you or your tribe are going to somehow materially benefit, democracy becomes just a little weaker.

You cannot put a price tag on the rule of law. Once it’s gone, it’s gone (and only restored after great violence). History tells us as much.

The philosopher Hegel observed the only lesson history teaches us is that we don’t learn from history.

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Awareness: A Garden of Possibility

Who am I? Why should I strive to be good? What is goodness? What is justice? Why do people do the things they do? Why do I think the way I think? What is the meaning of life? Why is it important to ask such questions?

Socrates once remarked that the un-examined life is not worth living. Jesus said as much when he observed “Man does not live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). For both teachers the purpose of life was to grow in our understanding of ourselves and others. We cannot grow in that understanding unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon life.

By consciously examining ourselves we become aware of how our subconscious programming shapes our decision-making. If we do not do this, that is, increase our awareness of the powerful mental software running our lives which we call mind, we are little more than robots living day to day in unconscious and automatic repetition; an existence where people surrender to the illusion of fate or the weight of circumstances wondering why they are unhappy; they live life as though they are living on an assembly line—unaware, mechanistic, assembling, persisting in constructing the same things over and over while vainly expecting different results.

I recall when my first son was born feeling something like I was living out the life-cycle of a moth. My son’s birth was of course tremendously meaningful and important to me; nonetheless, I couldn’t help feeling as though I was walking someone else’s path or living out some sort of role. A conscious examination of life helps us not only deal better with what life happens to throw at us but it also helps us perceive our existence, less as a prison, and more as a garden full of possibility.

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We write and belong to our own stories:
but strong relationships,
just like good narratives,
are ones where we’re deliberate in the story-telling–
communicating to our partner what we need
so we can produce a single, cohesive work.

If we write alone, we live alone,
lone characters acting cross-purposes.

Yet, if we write together, we are together:
and my Beren will be to your Lúthien–
as hero to heroine–
and we’ll have a chance at defeating dragons.