Friday, November 04, 2005

"After Socialism" (and capitalism)

Kors – Can There be an “After Socialism”?

The basis of this article is that it is time to stop idolizing socialism and face the ugliness that it has caused, the millions of people that have died in all the socialist countries in the world.  History is in a period that is “after the Nazis” because there was a sort of reckoning, the Nazis have become our generation’s manifestation of evil, but the Nazis didn’t even kill a tenth of the people that socialism did.  So why is socialism still so popular, why isn’t there a recognition of the millions of people that were murdered?  

In short, I think it is because socialism is going toward an ideal that western intellectuals like, while the Nazis were going toward an ideal that western intellectuals despise.  This is the idea that I have been living with, it is manifest in the statement, “well, if the circumstances were better, or if this variable were different, etc.”  This is not getting past socialism; it isn’t dealing with the millions of people that have already died.  Kors brings up a good point, maybe a system that has killed hundreds of millions of people should be laid to rest.  

This point however is where Kors and I part ways intellectually.  Kors goes on to the thinking that since socialism can be proclaimed dead then capitalism has won and everyone can sing and dance in the streets (except he would probably charge admission with the price depending on how badly you want to be on the street).  But to seriously approach his arguments, he did have one that I had to deal with.  He said that “profits are the measure of other people’s satisfactions of want and desire.”  This at first sounded virtuous to me because of the ability to satisfy the needs of other people, but what about advertising, and fashion, that manufacture wants and desires, even more, what about basic needs, are wants and desires more important than basic needs?  

I think the statement Kors made is really telling.  First off, he didn’t say needs, he said wants and desires.  I think (maybe hope) that this is because there is a perception that profit from the needs of people is immoral.  Second, North America is a place of consumption; that is how we sustain life.  We buy food, clothing and shelter.  The problem isn’t consumption; everyone needs to consume things to survive.  I just have a problem with consumption with the purpose of validation.  It just doesn’t work, if you’re a loser with bad jeans, better jeans won’t make you more popular.  The truth is that my jeans don’t make me a geek, my self-consciousness about my jeans do.  If I am comfortable with myself, so will other people.  

Back to basic needs, in one of my classes we are doing recommendations on Alberta’s water for life conservation strategy.  In this project we are trying to think of how to get people thinking about basic needs.  It is really hard to do, and I think it is because we don’t know where the raw materials come from.  For me, water comes from the tap, I can’t tell you what stream, or treatment plant it has gone through, so I am not thinking about the use of a natural resource.  In this same class my prof talks about a Homeland verses a frontier perspective.  The homeland perspective sees this land as our home, something to be taken care of.  I take car of my car because it is my partner in the job of getting me to work, if I abuse my car, then I won’t get to work.  The frontier perspective is that of exploitation.  I will just drive it till it dies then get another one.  That is a pretty common perspective for vehicles, but it just doesn’t work with the earth.  We don’t have that option with our water supply.  The first law of thermodynamics is that we live in a finite system.  The view that “profit are the measure of other people’s satisfactions of want and desire” is just not sufficient.  

My professor does work with the Inuit and the other Northern populations of Canada and other artic countries.  The Inuit don’t see a distinction between capitalism and communism.  Western intellectuals have been drawn to communism for so long because it is the only alternative to capitalism, and capitalism just isn’t working (unless your rich white and have no conscious).  But the world isn’t binary; there are more viable options of how to organize society.  It’s just that we can’t see past the boundaries of the west, the place precisely where some answers lay.  

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