Organian

Organian
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SF Bay Area, California,
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Banner courtesy of RicTresa, OS blogger and graphic artist extraordinaire - thank you, Ric! I am a middle-aged professional woman who needs to remain anonymous on the web for job-related reasons. I used to be a hippie peacenik, and still am a socialist. If you like my blog posts and/or my comments on those of others, I strongly encourage you to check out the link below under "My Political Matrix." Thanks for looking!

NOVEMBER 14, 2008 8:47PM

Socialism and Human Behavior: Defining the Issues

Rate: 6 Flag

[Updated to change title from "Human Nature" to "Human Behavior"] 

 

Ok. I said I wasn’t going to post until after the election was over. And although I have written some posts since I said that, they haven’t squarely related to the reasons I originally started this blog. Unfortunately, all I have time to do right now is lay out the general outlines of what I’d like to use this forum to explore.

 

As a starting point, just out of curiosity, I did a search on Open Salon for “socialism.”  Here is a very subjectively chosen list of links to just a few of the results:

 

·        A post about socialism and Christianity, which points out that wealth has been and is being redistributed in this country, to the tune of trillions of dollars, only all in an upward direction, and makes the case that Jesus was more in favor of redistributing it downward.

 

·        A post entitled “Will Socialism Save Capitalism?,” which defines socialism as “[a] political philosophy advocating substantial public involvement, through government ownership, in the means of production and distribution,” and argues that it is a necessary corrective when the excesses of capitalism get out of hand.

 

·        A post from October 28, 2008, entitled “Socialism, or What?,” which makes apocalyptic predictions about the likely aftermath of the recent election – none of which, fortunately, appear to have materialized.

 

·        A post with the provocative title “You say 'socialism' like it's a bad thing....,” which argues that a “little” socialism, such as “affordable health insurance,” would be a welcome change.

 

·        And one by a Canadian, giving some very interesting and intelligent background for the question “ What do Americans Mean When They Say "Socialist"?

 

All very interesting – certainly more so than “who is the sexiest man living,” which strikes me as a rather trivial topic given the times we’re living in. But still not really what I want to talk about.

 

Here are the sorts of questions I do want to think – and write – about:

 

·        What are the implicit assumptions about human nature and human behavior that underly socialism, and what are the equivalent assumptions for free market capitalism?

 

·        Which set of assumptions is closer to being valid?

 

·        What would have to change about the way humans behave and view the world, in order to make socialism work the way it ideally should?

 

Needless to say, I do not pretend to have answers to any of these questions. But I do have some ideas, which I plan to explore in future posts.  In the meantime, I await, and welcome, your comments and ideas.

 

I would also appreciate suggestions for reading matter on these topics.  Just to give you a sense of where I’m coming from, here are some books I have found thought-provoking and helpful:

 

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Island, by Aldous Huxley

The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm

The Revolution Betrayed, by Leon Trotsky

 

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Thanks for referring to my post in such positive terms. (You rated it, I hope?) You might add John Ruskin's Unto This Last to your reading list, which you will find here. It is a critique of classical economics first published in 1860, based on its assumptions about human nature. Gandhi read it and translated it into Gujarati. He says this:

" Observe, I neither impugn nor doubt the conclusion of the
science if its terms are accepted. I am simply uninterested in
them, as I should be in those of a science of gymnastics which
assumed that men had no skeletons. It might be shown, on that
supposition, that it would be advantageous to roll the students
up into pellets, flatten them into cakes, or stretch them into
cables; and that when these results were effected, the
re-insertion of the skeleton would be attended with various
inconveniences to their constitution. The reasoning might be
admirable, the conclusions true, and the science deficient only
in applicability. Modern political economy stands on a precisely
similar basis."
You're welcome, Matthew. (Yes, I rated it, and at least one other of yours.) And thanks for the reference to the Ruskin - it is indeed very interesting, and addresses exactly the questions I had in mind.
If you want to understand human nature in the 20th century in context of the American free market experiment, one could do little better than to read "How to Win Friends and Influence People " by huckster/anthropologist, Dale Carnegie.
I hear Kani Kosen (The Crab Ship), written by Takiji Kobayashi in 1929, is currently a best-seller among Japanese youth. It's about workers' struggle to unite against appalling conditions.

Hope springs eternal! More here:

http://www.revleft.com/vb/japan-marxist-book-t87213/index.html?s=d9cabd3fb09850bd03dec3fac242cf84&p=1225301
Here's a link to another set of interesting comments on socialism and human nature - although, as this writer points out, I probably should have used the term "human behavior" instead.