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10 Rules: How Closed Minds Become Closed Borders

It is my intention to provide my readers with a very valuable and unique service.  I am a voracious reader and it is my special talent to distill complex subjects down to their simplest parts and principles (if indeed such principles exist).  Much of what is written, past and present, is intentionally obfuscated for political purposes or dishonest gain, whether of the material, intellectual, or emotional varieties.  It is designed to misinform or mislead.  Even when the ideas are simply muddle-headed rather than intentionally disingenuous, there is rarely an understanding of where those ideas originated, or historical consequences of their application.   These observations are particularly applicable to political discussions, but are not uncommon in virtually any serious discourse.

I am driven to know what is.  I grew up in an intellectually closed society, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I left that religious organization in mid-life only to find a whole smorgasbord of other closed societies, whether religious, philosophical, political, or social.  There is a vehemence and even fierceness of advocacy that inhibits civil conversation and betrays intolerance of different life experiences and conclusions.  What is most remarkable about all of these is that either side in any of these debates would passionately agree with my observations herewith stated, but only find them applicable to the attitudes and behavior of those with an opposing viewpoint!

As the polemicists outshout each other in the vain belief that raising the volume of their cranky bombast is the key to recruiting you to the cause or the sale, regard for evidence, logic, scientific method, clarity, and other calm pursuits are left behind like abandoned children.   Defense of our own position usually trumps all other considerations without any awareness whatsoever of the road by which we arrived at our convictions.  My most important takeaway from my own life-altering experience  is that I am the bouncer and doorman to my own mind, and I have sole discretion over what is permitted to enter.  I am the final arbiter of what I accept, because I become what I ingest intellectually.   This is a personal responsibility that I cannot delegate to any other person, institution, or authority. In my opinion, every one of my readers shares this same responsibility for themselves, for the same reasons and with the same rewards. Bitterness and anger about years wasted in misguided belief and defiance of reality are efforts to transfer responsibility for our own past choices onto others, but in every case it was we who negligently invited strangers, in the form of ideas, into our mind unidentified and unchallenged.  Even when we absorb faulty premises in our age of innocence, responsibility to identify and correct these later in life cannot be avoided with impunity.

I frequently include book reviews on this blog, on a broad range of subjects.  All of these book reviews are at least somewhat positive in nature, because I do not waste my readers time on books that are in my opinion without at least some important redeeming values.  I am neither Democrat nor Republican, neither liberal nor conservative, and these days, once you get past the rhetoric, it can be said their distinctions are often without differences.  I have no ideology except the value of the individual human being. Each of us is a minority of one.  Regardless of the comfort we find in each other, there is no collective brain.  Descartes famously said “I think, therefore I am.” What we think determines what we become.

I want to share some rules of the road from my personal experience.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me to eat everything on my plate at meal times.  It was axiomatic that to waste food was wrong, even though our young minds rarely grasped the contradiction in the fact that we didn’t overload the plate with all that food, the grown-ups did.  How could we possibly know that for the rest of our lives other BIG PEOPLE would be filling up our intellectual plates with the impassioned ideas, ephemeral notions, and absolute certainties they insisted we must ingest because it is “good for us.”  As in childhood, we trust the source, the same one we associated with survival itself.

Rule #1 :   The purpose of all propaganda is to become your “trusted source.” Read more..

Everyone, it seems, has the strongest notions of what is best for us, beginning with our immediate families and extending to all the institutions of our culture.  What is accepted and practiced in one generation may be repudiated by future generations.  The philosophy that someone else knows what is best for us is nothing more than delegating to strangers what gets put on our plate.  It makes no difference whether this authority figure or expert comes in the guise of clergy, government, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, media talking heads or television and movie script writers; all of them provide us with generous helpings of their opinions and rules and they expect us to eat it, even if it gives us heartburn.  They do not like to be ignored, and most of them are happy, if given the opportunity, to harness the coercive power of the state to enforce what they know is, if not for our own good, at least for the good of the greatest number.  After all, Daddy knows best.

Everything is based on core premises, and unfortunately these are usually absorbed unconsciously from the Influential People of our childhood and adolescence, parents, teachers, news media, friends, and church.

Rule #2:  At a tender age we are neither equipped nor qualified to evaluate  conceptual content, and we know little or nothing about possible  alternatives. 

Content becomes indelibly associated with the persons and institutions of authority that deliver it.  Because of this early childhood association between content and source, we begin to develop class distinctions based on these associations.  We are more inclined to trust and believe those who dress like we do, worship as we do, get educated where we do, and who earn their living as we do.  At the most mundane level it is often said that the best place for a young man to pick up a date is at a church wedding, because he benefits by association with the joy of the occasion and the trust placed in that institution by its members. A “no” response in a different context might become a “yes” at the wedding.

Rule #3:  As children, content becomes truth when it is delivered by those on whom we depend to survive.

Once imbibed, these childhood-acquired core premises become unchallengeable, eternal truths, the template against which all new information is evaluated.  We quickly learn to block dissonance, any new information that makes us uncomfortable.  As we build the rest of our lives around these core premises, our emotional investment in them becomes such that a challenge to their veracity becomes a challenge to our identity.  There is a crushing need to shut down, shut out, and utterly annihilate such threats, and this need is all the more powerful and insidious because it is experienced subconsciously, as in dis-ease.  We experience anxiety without knowing the cause. 

When you experience something that disturbs you, it may or may not mean it is bad for you.  A bad taste in your mouth may mean a poison mushroom, or it may only mean conflict with the taste of the previous mouthful, in which case you need to cleanse your palate before proceeding.  A mouthful of lemon juice may cure you of scurvy, but it could be intensely unpleasant right after eating a sweet.  Likewise you may have been led to believe that very wise people are looking out for your welfare, and this goes down pleasantly, like a sugar cookie.  You might have had great faith in the honest intentions and competence of Bernie Madoff in handling your life savings, or you may currently be planning an extended retirement on Social Security and Medicare as they currently exist, and it tastes sweet.

Rule #4:  What feels safe and tastes good may be the prelude to the financial equivalent of a diabetic coma.

In every case, we always trusted the source.  The doorman to our mind was sound asleep.  There were red flags about what we believed, but we chose to ignore them.

That’s why I write about labels.  I sit down to lunch with people of all stripes and within minutes I can hear, and feel, the palpable hatred as my temporary companions launch into diatribes about those who think differently than they do.  The emotional intensity and intransigence derives from the speaker’s sense of certainty.  A mere label such as the name of a political party, or particular belief or non-belief excites the passions and invites the derision of the group at the table.  To belong is to share in the laughter.  The opposite is equally true and commonplace; the willingness to blithely accept nonsense if it comes from a trusted source.  We will defend what we have already emotionally invested in.

Rule #5:  It is possible to have a lifetime investment in something that is indefensible by any rational standard.  

How long have we known, and has our government refused to acknowledge, that our Social Security is history’s largest Ponzi scheme ever?

I used to finish reading any book I had started.  Like cleaning my plate at dinner, I felt compelled to finish what I had started.  I don’t always do this anymore.  Life is too short.  I always seek to identify as quickly as possible  authors’ basic premises, and even if I disagree with them, I may continue reading if only because I enjoy the writing style or because an author occasionally drops in a redeeming original thought or new twist on something.  I no longer waste my time filling my mind with garbage, but there is a balance between that and closing one’s mind.  Periodically I have to remind myself to re-evaluate my own core premises to see if they still withstand close scrutiny.  The final questions are always, Who says so? Why?  Based on what?  I am always on the alert for the hidden agenda, the sugar-coated dodge.

If some distinguished authority figure makes claims that appear improbable and  unsubstantiated by the facts as you know them, assuming they know more than you is one possibility.  Another possibility is that they have reasons to be less than truthful on this occasion.

If their explanations more accurately resemble circumlocutions, going round and round in circles and making no particular sense, you could assume that their explanation is too deep for your comprehension, given their special training, or you could also entertain the possibility that their non-answer is because they really don’t have an answer but won’t admit it publicly.

How do you spot obfuscations, disinformation, and hidden agendas?    For starters, unless you’ve taken a serious course in statistics, distrust all statistics.  Most are not scientifically sound and are intentionally manipulated for uninformed public consumption.  I could say there are a thousand ways to do this, but that would not be a scientifically sound statistic.  So we’ll move on.  In commercial matters, follow the money.  In political and institutional matters, follow the power.  Look past the easy answers.  Look past the obvious beneficiaries of a particular group action.  The secondary beneficiary is always the real beneficiary.  The primary beneficiaries receive very diffused benefits.  They are the poster children of the much ballyhooed political action; the orphans, the poor, the children, the unemployed, the elderly, the American middle class, the racial minorities.   The secondary beneficiary receives very consolidated power;  the power to bestow or withhold.   Daddy isn’t interested in your growing up.  Daddy needs you to need him.  Daddy needs to be in control of permissions, punishments and perks.

Rule #6:  If someone is selling invisible clothes, let them run around naked.  

It is better to be underwhelmed by the titles and decorations and positions of power of the so-called experts.  Who even remembers yesteryear’s Nobel prize winners and Treasury Secretaries or Fed Chairmen?  If anyone makes claims that to your mind seem like the Emperor’s invisible clothes, let them wear them.  Plan your personal life and make your financial choices around your own perceptions, not theirs.  They will usually have agendas you will never know about, and disincentives to provide full disclosure or tell the unvarnished truth.  Do they really know better than you how to direct your life?  Most American households’ finances are looking better than the governments, perhaps for no other reason than we can’t print money like the government  does.  We have been acting to correct our balance sheets, to start saving and stop borrowing.  Does that sound like what they have been doing?  Do they care about you, or are they far more concerned about polishing their credentials to the largest blocks of voters?  This goes for anyone who is offering you advice on any subject.  Would you look to the Dalai Lama for guidance on improving your sex life, knowing he is a celibate monk?

In the end it’s the same.  Money is power.  But government is money plus guns.  By guns I mean the police power of the state.  With guns you can seize other people’s money.  If you get enough people behind you, even in a democracy you can decide whose money you will take, and how much of it.  This is REAL power, and this is why groups will spend a billion dollars to secure a position of power that pays only half a million.  The most expensive seats are reserved for those who hold court, who trade in favors and gifts, and who choose the winners and the losers.  These people are not producers; they are looters who talk as if they understand production.

All ideas have a history, and if you follow the thread of an idea back far enough, there are always surprises.  Every opinion, belief, and conviction—indeed every certainty, was arrived at in a certain historical and social context, and made perfect sense to those persons in their place and time, and was almost invariably the partial result of emotional turmoil in the author’s personal life.  In other words, intellectuals, philosophers, clergymen, or brick layers, we are all made of the same dirt.  Ideas all began with real people and every single one of them had problems, issues, and emotional dilemmas.  Some of them were morons.

Rule #7:  Many of the world’s greatest thinkers would be in therapy today.

Ideological sparks at the intersection of the right time and the right population periodically ignited the imagination of masses.   New truths became eternal truths that have often reversed themselves, sometimes over and over again, everyone so preoccupied with the minutiae of their daily routines they fail to notice the intellectual roundabout on which they have traveled for decades or centuries.    The grand ideas  have all come and gone, or splintered and evolved in almost unrecognizable ways, becoming innumerable dogmas and orthodoxies,  and today they make compelling narrative for the history or philosophy buff.  Those who take the time to look more closely are sobered by the awareness that in every time period of history there were those who were willing and eager to kill or enslave those who disagreed with them.    Our current democratic society provides some cultural and legal protections against this, but a basic meanness still often lurks beneath the surface of many human believers.  I hear it in conversations at lunch.

Rule #8:  There’s a troll under many a believer’s bridge.

When belief devoid of thought is extolled as a virtue, doubt becomes suspect, opposing opinions are demonized, dissenters are criminalized, and definitions of the enemy are crystalized.  Hatred is born and mob action is galvanized.  Ascendant mobs become the state. Other groups see opportunities to advance their respective causes by hitchhiking on the coattails of the rising group, with the idea that they will address their important differences after they achieve a more favorable situation in the power structure.   The state attempts to co-opt and harness culturally powerful forces (the most powerful of which is religion) and then moves to consolidate its power by weakening, neutering,  and eliminating competing groups.  There are no enduring loyalties, just the shifting sands of temporarily overlapping interests.

This is why I champion individual rights in my writing.  The individual is the smallest group in the world.  Protect individual rights and you protect the world.  Democracies are the competition and conflict between groups, but history is replete with the horrors perpetrated by one group (even elected ones) on other groups.  Great evil has been done repeatedly in the name of God or in the name of Society.  Even in a so-called free society there is nothing more fear-inspiring than observing an impassioned closed mind reflected in the eyes of another human being, so certain of his ideas in fact, that he will gladly sacrifice your life to prove it.  On their own, they are dangerous and capable of atrocities; organized into groups with their hands on the levers of power (duly elected or not), no one is safe.  Not even the members of their group.  Every group has its purges.

There IS a problem with championing individual rights.  It puts responsibility on the individual.  There is uncertainty, and results are neither equal nor guaranteed.  What is guaranteed is that no group can by itself or backed by the power of the state, make you do or be what you do not believe in.  And you can’t do that to anyone else either.  Not everyone is comfortable with that.

Individual rights are inalienable, meaning you were born with them and do not acquire them by permission from others–no one and no group can morally take them from you, even when those others are infused with certainty about their better idea.   They may seize your property and take your life by force, but they can never do so morally.  Individual rights mean the right to pursue your own life and happiness as your highest values, and you are free to seek and perform work that sustains those values.  This includes buying and selling from whomever you choose, to your own benefit.  Individual rights means essentially the separation of church and state and the separation of economic activity and state.

Individual rights mean the government is there to protect  individual rights of all, and no one is there to serve the government.  Individual rights in practice, of necessity mean small government because there just isn’t that much the government needs to do.  No modern state, including western democracies, will ever pay more than lip service to government based on the sovereignty of the individual because all governments derive their power from the purse, which includes both confiscatory taxation and gross interference with free trade of its citizens.  The power of government is in granting permissions.  That’s where the money is.

Rule #9:  The government’s favorite childhood game is “Mother, May I?”

You can recognize individual rights in action when your government fears to transgress against its citizens.  

Group rights, on the other hand, are acquired by permission from a majority of others in society, and those permissions can be revoked.  The herd sometimes gives little or no notice of intent to stampede.  The primacy of group rights derives from the belief that your highest value as an individual  is not yourself but your contribution to society as a whole.  Individuals can  expect to be sacrificed to the group when the group calls for it. Every single favor demanded of  government by a group always implies a request for the police power of the state to be used against someone else  who doesn’t want to do the group’s  bidding.  Otherwise, if the group could achieve its ends on a voluntary basis, arrived at through negotiation, documented and signed by the parties, why would they need to involve the state?  Groups only need the state to club minority interests into submission.   I use the word minority here in the very literal sense of anyone who does not have sufficient votes to protect their interests. Group rights are the inevitable political legacy of those obsessed with the certainty of their beliefs, so much so that in their minds the ends justify their means.  Sooner or later the means include the confiscation of human life and property by the state–for the benefit of the greater good, of course.  Group rights degrade into group warfare and lead to an indefinitely expanding state, with eventually the state dwarfing all other groups.

Group rights lead to totalitarianism, which is sanctioned and even welcomed by the public in the name of efficiency.  When the cacophony of bitterly opposed groups gets too rancorous and the machinery of the state grinds down, someone with the necessary stage presence steps forward and suggests temporary consolidation of power to get through the political impasse.  We all know the rest of that story.

You can tell group rights in action when citizens fear their government.

So what is my point?  Am I advocating political activism in favor of limited government and individual rights?  Not really.  You can, of course, if you want to.  All I am encouraging is to become aware of what is happening around you, and to be aware of the ideas behind the events.  Keep your finger on the pulse of the politics in your community, your state, your nation.  Be more careful what you believe in, and scrutinize documentation with a critical eye.  In almost every location it is possible to exercise a great deal of personal freedom as long as you don’t make too much fanfare about it.  Love your life, keep your mind open and your passport current, and

Rule #10:   Know where the border is.

Closed minds eventually become closed borders.


Why Democracy Isn’t Enough

Human beings are a tribal species, and like most of the lower species on this planet, they prefer to travel in herds.  Truly free thinkers have always been a desperate minority, and it has been the unfortunate destiny of such individuals to periodically carry the world forward on their backs, often having to apologize for their discoveries, recant their theories under torture, or have their earnings plundered by their inferiors.  In a world culture based on the nonsensical concept that all men are created equal, these individuals have broken from the herd in their thinking, transcended commonly accepted “truths” and challenged the orthodoxy of the day.  Their discoveries and powers of production have done exponentially more to raise the standard of living  the world  over than the efforts of all the hand-wringing social planners of the planet combined.  The politicians of the world would have nothing to redistribute were it not for the outstanding minds and abilities of these scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.  To say that these persons are only the equals of the hordes who benefit from their exceptional minds can only be called the triumph of ideology over reality. Read more..

The breeding ground of all innovation is freedom; the freedom to challenge the unassailable, to think the unthinkable, to doubt the cherished myths of the culture, and should one be successful, the freedom to keep as one’s own property the product of one’s efforts.  One of the greatest myths of all time is that the purpose of our life is to live for others, a belief that runs counter to both rationality and reality.  A basic axiom of all conscious existence is that we must work to assure our own survival, and that in the case of man, survival is obtained by the use of our mind.  When the existence of lower species is threatened by some force of Nature, instinct requires fight or flight, and many or most die in the process.  Man, on the other hand uses his mind to understand and harness the forces of Nature, to bend those forces to his will.  In the process he has gone from being one of the weakest and most vulnerable of species to exercising a fundamental control of all of Nature, with the possible exception of viruses.  Like most other species, humans are hardwired to compete with each other for dominance, to seek power within the herd just for the sake of that power, and also to compete sexually.  It stil matters who obtains the favors of the female and succeeds reproductively.  Again, like other species, the male of the human species will strut “his stuff” to show his desireability.  One of the most seductive blandishments of a human male is the demonstration of power over others in the herd.  As Henry Kissinger is famously known to have said, there is no greater aphrodisiac than power.  This explains a great many phenomena such as why guys with expensive cars get laid more often; men with power or wealth, or even the mere appearance of such  attract females much younger than themselves; why even physically homely rock stars attract hordes of beautiful, adoring women.  It also explains a great deal of consumerism, or the need to constantly acquire new toys; the appearance of wealth and power is usually just as effective a means of displaying one’s standing in the herd as the reality of them.  Much of Nature is based on camouflage and deception in order to succeed at reproduction. 

There are essentially two ways to compete in the acquisition of power and assets:  one is to create value through innovation and production, and the other is to plunder the values created by others.  The more free a society is, meaning the more likely an individual is free to think for himself, without coercion, and the more free s/he is to keep the product of his efforts, the greater the aggregate innovation and productivity of that society, or herd, as a whole.  In other words, more freedom and less plunder equals prosperity.  One has only to look at third world petty dictatorships to see the net result of a herd dominated by plunder by their own petty chieftains; anyone with ‘Get-Up-and-Go’ in their tribe has gotten up and gone.  Your best minds will go where they are more likely to be able to keep the fruits of their labor.  Incredibly, your greatest minds are “selfish”.  They want to keep what they have earned, and they want control over its disposition.  If they are charitably inclined, they want to decide on the worthiness of potential recipients of their largesse, and they resent expropriation of their earnings by any gang of power lusters who seek control of the producers in their society.  They see no need to apologize for their success, nor do they feel morally obligated to expiate unearned guilt by giving away their wealth.  If they are as accomplished at the art of philosophical introspection as they are at physical creation of value, they understand that theirs is the only moral form of economic activity and for which no apology is required.

As far as the plunderers are concerned, there are only two basic types, and both types rely exclusively on one source of power:  the power of a gun.  The first type are the dictators of the world, who make no pretense at their goals and their methods.  They exterminate anything and anyone in their path.  They often make feeble efforts at philosophical or theological justifications for their power lust, but they generally achieve their rise to power due to physical intimidation and violence, and the general vapidity of humans in a herd.  Inexplicably, humans in the face of mortal threats to their freedom and very existence, often react like a doe in the headlights of an approaching vehicle.  They freeze up and in many cases pay the price of their own destruction.  Just as often, a herd population will endorse a potential dictator because they support the use of his strongarm methods to achieve goals of their own.  This is why in modern societies, the rise to power of some autocrat or other is frequently and enthusiastically applauded by intellectuals and journalists who see themselves as part of the power structure of the new regime, or they see this regime change as an opportunity to impose on the general population ideologically-based imperatives that would otherwise be rejected in a free society.  It rarely occurs to these people that the tyrants they put in power have no regard for life or property of anyone, including their own supporters.  Without a rule of law, everyone is at risk, and the new tyrants are quick to turn against their own supporters as potential threats to their power.

The second type of plunder is through democracy.  The real challenge of political philosophy is not to make the world safe for democracy, but to make the world safe from democracy.  Democracy is nothing more than a euphemism for mob rule or gang warfare.  The majority rules.  Period.  As NY Times columnist Russell Baker once said, ‘I despise the implied assumption of all minorities that if the tables were turned, they would be different.’  If you didn’t get that statement, read it again and think about it for a moment.  All minorities, meaning any group of any description whatsoever, chafes at the restrictions and limitations imposed on them by their majority rulers.  Their only recourse is to work at undermining the power structure of the powers that be in order to supplant the dominant party by their own.  One group, or gang, is pitted against the others.  Whenever a minority achieves its objective and comes into power, they immediately seek to use the levers of government power at their disposal to reverse their fortunes, and now impose their cherished values on the new dissenters.  Even in a democracy, the ultimate power is the power of a gun.  Each faction seeks control over the legislative process, first to perpetuate their own power base and maintain  control of the public purse, and the penalty for noncompliance with new laws is inevitably fines, imprisonment, or worse.  In the United States, our system  and our prisons are overflowing with the abuse of elected power.

In a democratic society, as in all of Nature, camouflage and deception are the norm.  One’s real goals can never be stated.  All controversial legislation is ALWAYS framed in humanitarian terms, in order to cast the opposition as selfish, ruthless, egotistical, or worse.  Moral high ground is always sought as the ultimate mask in any ideological struggle, ending with each side out-shouting  the other in their professions of love, compassion, and self-sacrifice.  Not the self-sacrifice of the power-lusters, but your self-sacrifice.  Power mongers are notorious for creating exceptions for themselves in the sacrifice business.  Almost all populism falls into this category; it panders to the greed and ignorance of the masses.  Not understanding the creation of wealth, and envious of those who have more than they, however earned, the masses enthusiastically support any legislation to “soak the rich”.  In their eagerness to pick the pockets of those above them on the socio-economic ladder, they forget there are many below them just as eager to pick their pockets.  So a fundamental question is, Who gets to pick the pockets of others?  And who gets to be the victims?  The mob will rule.  So a few years ago, in an effort to expropriate more of the wealth of the producers, legislation was passed at the federal level called Alternative Minimum Tax, which was designed to make the wealthy pay more taxes regardless of their legitimate deductions.  In other words, individuals above a certain income level were to be denied tax deductions that were legal for everyone else, in order to make them pay more taxes.  That was an example of populist legislation, since there are a lot less rich voters than those not rich.  The legislation appealed to the greed of the masses.  The middle and lower classes were more than happy to pick the pockets of the higher-ups in order to pay for their pet entitlement programs.  Why not?  But the legislation backfired because in the next few years the incomes of large numbers of the middle class grew so much, by inflation or otherwise, and threw them into the ranks of the “rich”.  Hey, they had never approved the picking of their own pockets; AMT was designed to pick the pockets of others!  The politicians hastily threw together new legislation revising the AMT to relieve these screaming voters.

Free societies regularly and incrementally vote themselves into slavery.  In the beginning they always believe they are merely imposing their own “appropriate” and “moral” and “unimpeachable” objectives on an unenlightened society; the giving away of freedom is always preceded by an arrrogance and elitism of the few who feel compelled to fix the world and tell everyone else how to live their life, and to overrule any disagreement with the power of the government’s gun.  No one is safe in any so-called free, democratic society, unless there is a firm rule of law, beginning with a Constitution limiting the power of the government and its voters.  It means there are some rights, individual rights, that can never be voted away by any majority, no matter how wildly popular with the masses.  The masses of voters are a herd, and they are educated by popular television, and can easily be induced to run off a cliff to their own destruction.  The media are largely indoctrinated by the universities, which are heavily influenced by an intelligentsia that favors collectivism, altruism, and government control of the masses.  Markets are also subject to herd mentality, and when they run off a cliff, the government usually steps in and says Step aside, we can do this better.  They then create the virus of the next financial pandemic, and in the process accrue and consolidate power over more and more of the subject population  and its economic activities.  Rarely is freedom lost all at once.  That’s all for today.  John Bechtel, Greenville, SC

Why Socialism Always Loses (and Always Wins)

Every so many years during the last quarter century a book has been published declaring the death of socialism and the triumph of capitalism.  Always rash, such predictions were not only premature but incurably optimistic about human nature.


Briefly put, socialism is the concept that wealth should be redistributed from those who created it to those who need it.  It is based on the concept that all men are equal, or would be at least, were it not for factors beyond their control, such as genetics, culture, personal history and upbringing.  None of us get to pick our parents or our gene pool, and we can easily become trapped in our neighborhoods and other disadvantaged circumstances.  Read more..

Socialism is fundamentally based on the philosophy of altruism, i.e. that the highest purpose of human life can be found in the service of others.  For the religious, this finds expression in duty to God and neighbor; for the secular altruism finds its expression in service to Society.  The core premise of socialism is one of sacrifice of self to the needs of others.  Icons of socialism are Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandi, and anyone else who may have sacrificed the life they wanted to live for a life of lesser benefit to themselves, but in the service of others.  Socialism is about self-denial, self-abnegation, servitude, and duty.  Its hallmark is guilt, the guilt of those who thus have to sneak their pleasures.  If the bottom of society can not be brought up to an equal level with the rest of society, then the top level of society has to be brought down.  Not equality of opportunity, but equality of results is the benchmark of success.  Since man is basically “selfish”, socialism always involves the use of government coercion, the threat of a gun, to achieve its aims.  People cannot be relied on to sacrifice themselves in large enough measure to achieve the utopian objectives. 


The emotional payoff for the practitioners of socialism is first of all power, for you have the ability, either by the vote, or by regulatory authority, or subjective law, or well-financed lobbying, to intrude on the lives of others and compel them to adhere to your personal vision of the “good”; and if your appeals to their sense of unselfishness and self-sacrifice are not successful, you always have the power of the governments’ guns to fall back on.  For those not in power, an  emotional payoff is the knowledge that if they plead their case loud enough, their needs and misfortunes may receive attention from the authorities, usually in the form of a transfer of wealth from someone more productive than you, to you.  For all who sacrifice, there is the satisfaction of a certain self-righteousness, and if their sacrifices result in unhappiness or death, there is always the promise of eternal life and other gratifications on the other side.  Finally, a universal appeal of socialism is that nothing is our fault, nothing can be helped, and anything less than total equality is obviously unfair.  Therefore the seizure of the property of others for redistribution is considered not only moral, but a right, an entitlement.  It is not even charity, because charity is voluntary, not coercive.


Socialism has a strong appeal for underachievers and those envious of the success of others, and it also appeals to those who seek power over others.  The hallmark of socialism and its underlying premise of altruism is “loaded language”, or the doublespeak of those who dare not declare their real motives.  Every wish, every desire, every legislative initiative, every grab for power, is carefully wrapped in the language of sacrifice, self-abnegation, and the good of society, particularly a society of victims.  In this way it seeks the moral high ground of the argument, handicapping the opposition and accusing them of shallow greed and self-seeking.  When the wider culture holds altruism as its highest value, it becomes a potent political weapon.  In a culture where altruism predominates, for example, businessman will rarely mention the profit motive, but frame their efforts in terms of job creation.  The former would be an admission of selfishness; the latter an evidence of nobility of spirit.


Socialism appeals to the power seekers, because the process of redistribution of property has to be administered.  When the electoral process is involved, it is the case of nine foxes and a hen deciding on what to have for dinner tonight.  The election itself is a fraud, because it is a violation of natural, immutable rights of every individual to keep what he has earned.  Most of the redistribution is decided by bureaucrats, however, not by the electorate, and in time a vast regulatory bureaucracy takes on an existence of its own and becomes the Master of those it supposedly serves.  Then begins the craven march of “political entrepreneurs” who come to plead their special neediness, and thus begins the corruption as constituents vie with each other for influence with the power brokers.  Favors are exchanged, bought and sold, and secret “pull” with the authorities becomes more important than real competitiveness.  As a matter of fact, the bureaucrats are frequently sought out for regulatory relief and protection from competitors who threaten to overtake them.   Who you know has now become more important than how good you are at what you do.


This creeping corruption eventually erodes the entire system, robbing it of its efficiency, and replaces it with the adulation of mediocrity.  Units and nation states become less able to compete in the global market place, sheltered by domestic regulation and protection.  For a while such a nation state can maintain an illusion of security, but its internal corruption weakens its fiber until it can no longer sustain itself and it collapses under its own weight.  Its producers produce less; its needy need ever more.  If you are highly productive and efficient, your virtue is punished, and your “excess” property is confiscated and redistributed to the less productive.  You experience the flight of human capital, as your best and brightest follow the money and leave your country to work elsewhere, anywhere where they can keep more of what they earn.  These are vilified publicly for their failure to appropriately sacrifice to those they left behind.  It is then common to see a government close its borders, not to those trying to get in, but to restrain those inside from leaving.


All of this is why socialism always fails.  It runs counter to human nature.  It runs counter to reality, and can only be enforced with guilt, and that failing, a gun.  It doesn’t work because you cannot ask a man to work hard and not keep what he has earned.  Socialism is an attempt to practice slavery under another name.  Socialism is an attempt to load as many fleas on a sled dog as possible without killing the dog.  Altruism maintains that the dog does not have a right to its own life as an end in itself, but that its only right to existence is to support the fleas.  The dog begins to exert most of its effort winning the approval of Flea Control authorities rather than pulling the sled.  It becomes lethargic and listless and ineffective.  The other sled team wins the race.  Whoops.  Too many fleas.  Killed the damn dog.


In a culture where altruism is the moral ideal, socialism always revives, being eternally reinvented, like draping a dead body with new clothes.  In this sense, socialism always succeeds.  Voters in an altruistic culture will always grant government the benefit of legitimacy and good motives that it will deny to businessmen, because the modus operandi of government is theoretically service to others, while business is self-seeking.  In a modern industrial society, this assumption of the moral high ground by socialists is never attacked; criticism of socialism is always based on practical grounds.  “Socialism is a grand ideal,” we are told, but “unfortunately it doesn’t work.”  Or, “it would have worked if it had been properly implemented.”  If only that damn Hitler or Stalin had gotten it right!  Socialism revives, only to fail again.  With self-sacrifice as the moral ideal, corruption, ineptitude, and bloodthirst are excused as regrettable aberrations.  We’ll get it right the next time!


Dear readers, this is where your government is going at full throttle.  Come back to this website in the next few days for a sequel on “Did Capitalism Fail?”


Thanks for visiting.  John Bechtel, Greenville, SC


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