Posts Tagged ‘Karl Marx



06
Aug
09

Working Class Hero

The term “working class” is thrown around a lot these days. It’s applied to everything from Congolese coltan miners to New York City construction workers to cab drivers to anyone employed by a corporation. It’s not easy to define exactly what “Proletariat” is anymore, definitions and conditions have changed since the time of Marx. Do we apply the term to anyone who works for a company? A marketing executive is hardly “working class”. Do we call anyone who works with his hands a member of the working class? Technically a doctor works with his hands. What about mechanics and engineers? Some are down in the pits tinkering with the greasy hearts of machines and some sit behind desks jotting down plans of how to get lever-1 to connect to piston-2. What about the third world? Is a street sweeper in Chiang Mai less or more Proletariat than a janitor in San Diego? Where does the working class end and the middle class begin?

All in all, it isn’t easy to define exactly what “Proletariat” means anymore. For the sake of the arguments used in this post, we will define “proletariat/working class” as follows: The members of society who are employed in such fields that require little or no education and involve physical/manual labor.

So what’s so special about the working class that made Marx hail them as the future of humanity? Well even though we’ve found a definition, let us look at what it is exactly that the Proletariat do.

In Capitalism, society is organized like pillar- or better yet- a pyramid. The base of the pyramid constitutes the largest class, the proletariat or “working class”. The working class supports the entire pyramid, producing the food, mining the hills, hacking down the trees, and generally manufacturing and producing everything consumed by society. Resting on top of the proletariat is a smaller class known as the Bourgeoisie or “middle class”. What separates the Bourgeoisie from the Proletariat is that (1) the middle class is dramatically more wealthy than the working class, (2) smaller, (3) consumes more, and (4) does very little production outside of various “middle-man” jobs. In short, while the Proletariat consist largely of the farmers, the fishers, the miners, the janitors, the construction workers, etc. the Bourgeoisie consists of such people as lawyers, doctors, small business owners, secretaries, non-manual-labor business employees, etc. The Bourgeoisie, however, are in turn forced to support the very top of the pyramid, the Elite or “upper-class”. Just as the Bourgeoisie are considerably more wealthy, smaller (in numbers), and less productive than the Proletariat are, the Elite are vastly more wealthy, smaller in number, and less productive than the Bourgeoisie. The Elite consists primarily of tycoons, multinational corporation owners, bankers, oil barons, actors, etc. For some odd reason this class, which produces and contributes the least, is given the most wealthy and power.

Now in a Capitalist society (which at this point in time is almost every society on the planet), it is impossible to deviate from this social-class pyramid. The size might vary, as well as the slope, but the pyramid is always there. Of course, there have been those who have attempted to deny this. A famous, anonymous anti-Communist quote states that “The communist [sic], seeing the rich man and his fine home, says: ‘No man should have so much.’ The capitalist, seeing the same thing, says: ‘All men should have as much'”. Even a child can see the problem with this logic. If this statement were to be applied, then the lower classes- the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat- would be all crammed into the pinnacle of the pyramid which- having now no lower supports- would come crashing to the ground. The statement should actually read “The Communist, seeing the rich man and his fine home, says: ‘Not all men can have so much!'”. Quite simply, the wealthy can only be wealthy because they are supported by a large middle class and the middle class can only be the middle class because they are supported by the massive working class. As I said- it’s a pyramid. The top can only exist because of the middle, the middle can only exist because of the bottom and the bottom… well, they really don’t need the two layers on top, now do they?

Naturally, some would contest this. Author Ayn Rand, in her famous/notorious novel Atlas Shrugged attempts to convince the reader that it is not the Proletariat but the Elite who support and fuel society. In her book, the mysterious character John Galt essentially leads the wealthy tycoons on a strike, forcing the world to come to a shuddering halt. Of course, the idea that the absence of the least productive members of society would stop the world from turning is laughable. The equivalent would be to claim that losing the decorative fuzzy-dice from a car would keep the car from running. If anything, with the removed weight of the Elite, society would probably run more smoothly. The Elite needs the Proletariat, the Proletariat do not need the Elite.

So what’s the solution to this glorified pyramid scheme we call “society”? Well as we’ve covered before, it’s only a matter of time before the Proletariat are starved, beaten, and oppressed beyond the limits of their endurance and the upper-class’s ability to contain. Revolution, Comrades. The day when the exploiters and enslavers look out of their alabaster windows to see all the Moseses, Toussaint L’ouvertures, Nat Turners, John Browns, Che Geuvaras, and George Habashes of the world bearing down their gilded palaces, howling for justice. By the time the dust settles, there is no more Elite, no more Bourgeoisie- even the old, exploited, “drugged-with-religion-and-sex-and-tv” (as Lennon once said) working class is gone. What exists instead? The new Proletariat.

In Communism, there is but a single class (though Marxism sometimes refer to this as being “classless“). Rather than being the down-trodden support for the Bourgeoisie and the Elite, the new Proletariat combines the best of all classes and purges what was negative. This new working class still is the working class, however, it exists as an individual and independent entity. The wealth that was once funneled to the rich is now equally shared, giving the public a higher standard of living. Everyone has the opportunity to be whatever they are skilled at doing- an opportunity once only attainable by the wealthy. Society is healthier and stronger, since in addition to doing whatever they are talented at doing, the manual labor is shared equally by the public, rather than being forced onto the backs of a single group. With an equal starting point, everyone is able to advance solely by their own merit, rather than by accident of birth and dumb luck.

In the old days, our heroes were god-kings and dragon-slaying aristocrats, today we look up to the Average Joe and the Homer Simpsons, but the future of the world belongs not to nobles and white-collar employees but to those who truly merit praise. Long live the working class hero.

29
Jul
09

It’s Not Easy Being Red

It’s not easy being Red.

Sure we claim the moral high ground, believe in the inevitable nature of the Communist revolution, and get the exclusive privilege of railing against the established order. But all of that doesn’t change the fact that being a Communist is hard. I’d liken it to being an Old Testament prophet, preaching to the masses about the inevitable judgment of God, the need to end the oppression of the idols and turn to righteousness. But the prophets were rejected, labeled as possessed, delusional, and insane. Nothing but crazed voices in the desert. Being a prophet was to be rejected, maligned, and even hunted like animals.

Being a Communist isn’t much different. We have a message or revolution, justice, and freedom we try to give the masses. We try to help the people, but instead of being hailed as liberators we’re stoned as heretics and blasphemers. Nine times out of ten when I tell someone that I’m a Communist I’m met with such hostility, shock, and disgust that you’d think I’d have claimed to support the punching of infants. Perhaps it’s understandable on some level. Many before us claiming to be Communists were nothing but charlatans and frauds, using Marxism for their own ends. Much of the Communist message seems dark, almost apocalyptic. The plutocrats and Fascists have filled society with propaganda, depicting Communism as enslaving and authoritarian. Perhaps people can’t be blamed for being scared. Perhaps they can- after all, fear isn’t a poison that can be injected- people become afraid by letting themselves be scared. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, as a child, once drove off a group of street-urchins harassing a homeless, disabled man. Instead of being thanked by the man, Che was spat on.

It’s not easy having to deal with that every day. When the public fears you, when the masses hate you, when society has no respect for you and the whole world thinks you’re insane- it all tends to wear on one. Like the old prophets, it’s easy to want to give up- to flip off the public and wander up into the hills, patiently waiting for the human race to hunt itself to extinction. They don’t want help, they don’t get help. Let the Capitalists enslave the world, let the profiteer suck the earth’s resources dry. When it’s all over and the only thing left are the dogs wandering the dusty, empty streets we can wander back down an say “We told you so…”.

But as much as we’d like that, as easy as it would be, we must always remember we aren’t doing it for them. Whatever prompted us to become Communist, we remain Communists- in spite of all the stigmatism, crucifixion, and incredulity- for a single reason. We do not do all that we do out of a love of humanity, we do all that we do because it is right.

Yes, comrades, it’s not easy being red. I don’t like feeling like a leper or a lunatic anymore than the next man. I don’t enjoy the prejudice, the taunts, and the condescending smiles. Nevertheless, I remain a Communist and will always remain a Communist. The old prophets were mocked- they went on roaring from the deserts. I’m sure Jesus had his bad days, it never stopped him. Trotsky and Che, even up to the days they were murdered, fought always for a better, more just world. I have non of their eloquence, Comrades, so the best I can do is to echo their words below.

“As long as I breathe I hope. As long as I breathe I shall fight for the future, that radiant future, in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizons of beauty, joy and happiness!”

– Leon Trotsky, 1901

It’s not easy being red…

…but it is right.

27
Jul
09

How I Became a Communist

It seems that if you were born before 1990, you were born to one of two worlds, Capitalist and Communist. If you were born in the West, you were supposed to be a Capitalist, inherently opposed to any and all things leftist. If you were born in the so-called Marxist countries, you were raised to believe that the Communism, country, and party came before anything else. Life was simple: if you are A then you are against B, if you are B then you are against A.

I was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the stereotype of the Red Menace was trite and the US hadn’t picked Arabs to be the next bogeyman. Communism was dead (or at least, the Soviet Union was) and I was an American so I wasn’t expected to be anything other than Capitalist. While I had never been actually educated on the tenets of either system (most eleven year olds aren’t), I had a basic grasp of the two concepts. Capitalism- everything owned, Communism- everything shared. Again, being an eleven year old I didn’t spend too much time contemplating the subject until I began reading and old children’s book from the 70s. It was called The Girl Who Owned a City and it was, to the best of my knowledge, the event that set my down the path to Marxism. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where a plague has wiped out everyone above the age of thirteen, the hero of the story, a girl named Lisa, manages to keep her town safe from roaming gangs by creating an semi city-state in the local highschool. Throughout the story, the lesser characters complain that they want a say in how the “city” is to be run but Lisa simply states that it is her city, and that everyone else is only allowed to live there in exchange for their services. She makes the argument that eventually, Jill (her medically inclined friend) will be able to operate her hospital which will belong to her and no one else. Of course, the subtle Any-Rand style society that was advocated in the book was only part of the story, but it got me to think. A bad habit of mine is that when I read a story, I’ll go through a few chapters and spend the rest of the day putting myself in the place of the main character and trying to figure out what I would do in his or her place. As I read through the book I couldn’t help but feel that there was a major flaw in the arguments the characters made. “Sure,” I thought, “if Jill wants to be a doctor and there’s an abandoned hospital nearby then she could take it and make it her hospital and that’s all fine and well. But what happens when the hospitals run out? What happens when there isn’t any more canned food to go around? If I were in Lisa’s place, could I believe in this system?”. I would try to argue Lisa’s case from every angle I could imagine but I kept coming back to the same conclusion. In a world where everything is individually owned, there will be eventually a group of those who have everything and a group who have nothing, and the group that has everything will have no reason to give anything to those who have nothing, leaving the nothing-group to starve or turn into brutalized, thieving gangs. No matter what reasoning I applied, what rationale I used I found myself inevitably ariving at the same conclusion: Capitalism doesn’t work- there will always be someone left behind simply because he’s unlucky!

Naturally one can imagine it’s not easy for an eleven year-old to cope with the discovery that a major tenet his worldveiw is seriously flawed. For a breif while I looked for a better system, reading up on monarchies, dictatorships, anarchy, and theocracy (I even tried to create my own political system only to give it up once I found that the name I wanted to use had already been taken). No matter what system I looked at, it seemed that the problem (though I wasn’t sure what the exact problem was) would be either simply moved or exacerbated. I concluded- disappointed- that Capitalism as it existed now was as good as it was going to get. I didn’t give much throught to the subject again for three years.

When I was fourteen, I had my first formal introduction to the Capitalist/Communist conflict. My family was looking after a friend’s house and I, sitting upstairs in the ornate library/study, was bored out of my mind. To pass the time, I pulled to random books off of the shelf, determined to read through both of them before the day was over. Setting both tomes on the table in front of me, I flipped open the covers to see what I had picked: The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and Das Kapital by Karl Marx.

It was probably one of the longest afternoons of my life. I poured over each paragraph, each word, measuring the arguments individualy and against each other. I read the biography’s of the authors in the back of the books, to understand their histories and biases. The Wealth of Nations wasn’t much of a read- I had gotten more or less the same philosophy from The Girl Who Owned a City, but Marx- Marx was enthralling. Whatever preconceptions I had about Communism, whatever images of Stalin’s Russia and dark police states, faded away. Here, I thought, was an actual solution to the problem- which I realized was property and the class system. While I had been becoming a leftist for years, it was on that day I became a Communist.

Naturally my family wasn’t exactly thrilled when I told them, but at the time I believe they thought I would grow out of it. As Otto von Bismarck once said, “Anyone who isn’t a Communist before eighteen has no heart, anyone who is a Communist after eighteen has no mind.” Whenever I told people I was a Communist I got the same condescending nod, the knowing smile, and obnoxious comment “You’ll change your mind when you’re older…”.

Obviously that hasn’t happened.

24
Jul
09

The Many Faces of Communism

Like Capitalism, Communism is not a single political, socio-economic system but a term used to denote any number of systems based around the abolition of private property and the establishment of a democratic, classless system. Listed below are some of the more major forms of Communism.

Classical Communism/Marxism

A common misconception about Communism is that it was created by Karl Marx. In reality, however, the concept of Communism existed before Marx’s time and it was a young Karl Marx who became Communist, rather than Karl Marx founding Communism. Nevertheless, Marx did for Communism what Adam Smith did for Capitalism. Marx, by writing the first authoritive Communist works (particularly The Communist Manifesto) will be forever credited with establishing the basic principles of Communism (also called Marxism). The fundamentals of Communism, as discussed in previous posts, is that the working class, after ages of exploitation by the upper classes, will revolt and establish a new world order in which all property is shared, the concepts of royalty and nobility are abolished and democracy is instated, and the entire class system is destroyed in place of a single, working class. While this might appear more or less straightforward, the exact details of the Communist society were never stated by Marx, and as a result, many have built off of Classical Communism and combined it with other political and economic theories.

Christian Communism

Perhaps the earliest known Communist society was the primitive Christian Church. According to early records and the Christian bible, the Christian community (though technically the word “Christian” had not yet been created) shared all property and had a government specially created to facilitate the distribution of property. As Christianity grew and became more institutionalized, Christian Communism died out and was not revived until the early 1600s, when religious separatists began colonizing America (the most famous of these groups to instate Christian Communism was the Plymouth colony). Again, as Christianity became more established in the New World and as more and more settlers arrived, Christian Communism withered away again (though some groups, such as the Amish and Hutterites, have kept it alive in certain parts of America). Aside from a brief period in the 1700s when many Catholic Missions cooperated with the local Native American population as isolated Communist societies, the actual practice of Communism has died out among most Christian sects- partly because of the spread of Capitalism and partly because of the religious persecution instated by the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea (motivated by Marx’s rather disparaging attitude towards religion). Nevertheless, many Christians have combined Christianity and Marxism, stating Marx’s anti-religious comments were the result of corruption within the church at the time. Indeed, in many parts of the world Christianity and Marxism have been combined as the basis for anti-Capitalist revolution (take the Palestinian PFLP, or the Catholic “Liberation Theology” for example).

Leninism (Bolshevism)

Leninism is the political/socio-economic plan that was in the process of being instated in post-revolutionary Russia. Pioneered by the revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, Leninism (sometimes called “Bolshevism” after Lenin’s party) was more or less the same as Classical Marxism with a few added modifications. Firstly, Leninism holds that in order to effectively redistribute property and manage the national workforce, a strong centralized (federal) government was required. Secondly, Leninism focused on industrialism, factory workers, and production- attempting to make industry the backbone of the Communist society (though it should be noted that some hold that the Leninist focus on factory work was a result of Russia’s involvement in WWI, not ideology).

Maoism

While most Communists hold that Mao Zedong was nothing more than a dictator and a narcissistic megalomaniac who used Communism as a Trojan horse to seize control of China, there are a number of those who believe that before Mao came to power he was a genuine believer in Communism. Using Mao’s early actions and teachings, “Maoism” has been developed as a Communist philosophy acting almost as a counter-balance to Leninism. Unlike Leninism, Maoism demands a strong provincial (state, local) government rather than a massive central power. Also, Maoism puts emphasis on peasants, farmers, and agriculture as the foundation of a Communist society (as opposed to the Leninist focus on industry).

Trotskyism

Created by Leon Trotsky after his exile from Russia by Joseph Stalin, Trotskyism is what one might call “the left wing of Communism”. Trotskyism focuses on the revolutionary aspect of Communism. While most other schools of Communism believe that the revolution must occur before the establishment of the Communist society, Trotskyism holds that a Communist society and the revolution will be happen almost simultaneously. Trotskyism is also perhaps the most anarchic form of Communism, focusing heavily on localized government and state/provincial rights (extremely similar to the Jeffersonian of the early US). Another major aspect of Trotskyite Communism is the belief in circular-revolution, the concept (originating in ancient China as the “Mandate of Heaven”) essentially states that all governments- including Communist governments- will become inevitably corrupt over time, therefore it is not the right but the obligation of the public to revolt and instate a new government each time this happens (a principal also found in The Declaration of Independence).

Luxemburgism

Established by Rosa Luxemburg, this form of Communism is perhaps the middle-ground between Leninism and Maoism. Lexemburgism focuses on the importance of ensuring Democracy, and calls for a balance between local and centralized power. Luxemburgism also calls for populism and general abolition of political parties (extremely similar to the philosophy of George Washington and- with the exception of the call for the balance between federalism and provincialism- Andrew Jackson).

Green/Eco/Environmental Communism

Perhaps the youngest form of Communism, Environmental Communism holds that Capitalism is destroying the planet’s ecosystem and devouring its resources and that Communism is the only viable solution. Eco Communism (as it is sometimes also called) focuses on low-consumption levels through shared property, controlled levels of production, and a lack of corporations blamed for damaging the plant. While most Communist contemporary Communist systems espouse some form of ecological protection, Eco Communism differs in that the protection of the environment is the primary goal, rather than establishing a Communist society based on agriculture or religious principles.

Revisionary Communism

The term “Revisionary Communism” does not refer to a specific philosophy or class of Communism but rather an aspect. While Revisionary Communism can be applied to almost any non-Classical Marxist ideology, it is most often used to describe various fringe groups who believe in amending some or all of Marx’s teachings, particularly on the subject of the Proletariat revolution or class system. While technically Communist, these groups are often motivated by the belief that Marx’s revolutionary ideology is too harsh or unnecessary for a Communist society to be implemented.

Pseudo Communism

Technically, this category refers not to Communists but to various groups, individuals, or philosophies claiming to be Communist but in reality functioning as something else. The best example of this would be the post-Leninist Soviet Union, which claimed to be Marxist but in actuality was simply a Socialist dictatorship. “Pseudo Communism” is, of course, a derogatory name most often given to Stalinist and Contemporary-Maoist groups. It is also used by some to mock Revisionary Communism.

24
Jul
09

The Many Faces of Capitalism

Throughout the blog I have been discussing various aspects of Capitalism, however, one must keep in mind that Capitalism isn’t so much an economic theory in and of itself but rather a general category of economic theories based around capital (money). For one to describe Capitalism without making note of the various schools of thought within the system would be the equivalent of describing Christianity without mentioned the beliefs of Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, or describing warfare without noting the invention of gunpowder. So, in the interests of clarity, listed below are the descriptions of the major classes of Capitalism.

Classical Capitalism

While the actual term “Capitalism” was coined by Karl Marx, the first comprehensive work on the subject of Capitalism (or “commerce”, as it was simply known as) was penned by British economist Adam Smith, in his The Wealth of Nations (considered by many to be the “Bible of Capitalism”. Smith’s essential argument was that humans ought to work in their self-interests which would create a strong and healthy society. Smith stated that if one person owns a product and attempts to sell it, the purchaser will buy it for whatever he deems it to be worth, leaving both seller and buyer richer and happier than before their transaction. Throughout his work, Smith advocates this concept of self-interest as the foundation of commerce, stating that “We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”. Additionally, Smith claimed that it is in the best interests of the economy and the government for the government to interfere as little as possible with the economy (see “Free Trade” below).  Today, Adam Smith is viewed by many as the founding father of Capitalism and one of the most important economic theorists in the history of the world.

Laisseiz-Faire

Laisseiz-faire (literally “Hands-off” or “Let-do”) can perhaps best be described as an aspect of Capitalism (Classical Capitalism, to be precise) rather than a school of Capitalism. Based on the works of Adam Smith, Laisseiz-faire is a philosophy that states that the government should never interfere or attempt to regulate the economy which- according to the advocates of Laisseiz-faire- functions best without outside influence. While developed separately from Adam Smith, the philosophy of Laisseiz-faire and Classical Capitalism are often combined or associated with each other. While Smith primarily objects to government tariffs, Laisseiz-faire has historically opposed government interference in the form of anti-monopoly laws, minimum wage, and unions.

Christian Capitalism

While the US and much of Europe has never had any theocratic rule since the end of the Renaissance, it is undeniable that in the West, a Christian concept of Capitalism has existed for some time. Of course, this “Christian Capitalism” by no means applies to all Christians, but the fact remains that this philosophy does indeed exist. Christian Capitalism attempts to reconcile the self-focused, competitive tenets of Classical Capitalism with the rather community-focused, anti-materialist teachings of the Christian religion. The end result is what one might call a “moralistic Capitalism”, where competition and materialism do exist, but are tempered by ethics. Those within the system are free to make a profit, but gouging the buyer, deceiving the competition, or tricking the seller is considered to be unacceptable. Charity is advocated but not mandated (as opposed to other religious economic theories to be discussed later). While this form of Capitalism is often considered to be the ideal, there are many split on issues of what is and is not moral (what are the limits when trying to outsell a competitor, for example).

Regulated Capitalism

Contrary to common belief, regulated Capitalism is not a form of Communism or Social but simple government interference. Regulated Capitalism, like Laisseiz-faire, isn’t so much a theory of Capitalism but an aspect of Capitalism. Teaching the very opposite of Laisseiz-faire, regulated Capitalism states that economies require some form of control in order to flourish. This “control” can range from basic laws on minimum wage and worker-safety (such as in post 1940s America) to major government control (as in 1920s and 1930s Italy). While regulation is often confused with Socialism, one must keep in mind that so long as the state does not own the company, the products it sells, and the revenue generated, it does not count as Socialism.

Keynesian Capitalism

British economist John Maynard Keynes could perhaps be described as the most anti-Capitalist Capitalist the world has ever known. Keynes held that Capitalism is “the astounding belief that the most wickedest [sic] of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”, and yet was himself a Capitalist. From a philosophical standpoint, Keynes despised Capitalism and yet saw it as the only option. As a result of this, his economic theory (known as “Keynesian economics”) attempts to protect the public from Capitalism’s costs while maximizing its benefits. Keynes advocates government regulation to protect the public while stating that the public, in order to prevent recessions and depressions, should spend their money without excessive investment or saving. Currently, Keynesian economics are often criticized by other schools of Capitalism as requiring too much collective and government interference.

Ayn Rand Capitalism

Also called “tooth-and-claw Capitalism” “Anarchist/Anarcho-Capitalism”, and “Social Darwinism”, this form of economics focuses on individualism to the point of egotism (or as Rand dubbed it, rational self-interest). Theorized by novelist Ayn Rand (most famously in her books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), this form of Capitalism is perhaps the most brutal. Rand’s philosophy vehemently opposes all forms of government interference, charitable aid, altruism, and religion. While never explicitly stated in her works, Rand’s economic theory holds that the wealthy and privileged are wealthy and privileged because they earned it, while the poor and proletariat are at the bottom of the economic food-chain because they are lazy or simply choose to be poor. In her book Atlas Shrugged, Rand submits that the wealthy and powerful are the most productive and useful members of society, capable of bringing the world to a sudden halt by going on strike. While Rand’s theories are essentially Capitalist, many other schools of Capitalism look down on Rand’s theories as barbaric, excessively anti-charity, and basically flawed. Despite public criticism, many hold that Rand’s Capitalism is by far the most pure form of Capitalism.

Free Trade

Free trade, like regulated Capitalism and Laisseiz-faire Capitalism, is a concept- not a theory. Free trade essentially is the belief that international trade should not be regulated or controlled by governments. Outsourcing, the import/export of resources and goods, multinational corporations, and international investment are all aspects of Free Trade that its advocates state will produce higher profits, lower production costs, more jobs, more demand, and generally stronger economy.

Protectionism

Protection (perhaps more of a political concept than an economic one) demands the very opposite of Free Trade. Protectionists believe that jobs should go to citizens of the country the company is in, that resources and products should be obtained and produced locally and that massive export and import tariffs should be maintained for the purpose of preserving jobs for the citizens of the country. Protectionists will often also oppose immigration for the same reason.

22
Jul
09

Professional Amateurs

The word “amateur” is derived from the Latin word “Amo” meaning “to love”. We use “amateur” to describe someone who is doing something as a hobby or for fun, rather than being paid to do so. An amateur baseball player plays for the fun of it, a professional baseball player plays for a living.

One of the most common arguments against Communism is that by abolishing the class system, money, and private property, people will have no motivation to work hard (or work at all) since they have no chance of advancing their position in life. It is claimed that the only reason most people can put with their mindless, soul-crushing jobs is that they are being paid to work. They can then take their money, gradually move up through the ranks of society, and buy material goods that bring them comfort and happiness (though whether material goods actually make us any happier is a debate for another post). If we take all of this away, then why would anyone do anything?

The answer is quite simple: people will do almost anything for the love of doing it.

I’m a writer. I don’t get paid to write, I don’t move up through the ranks of society, I don’t buy things in an attempt to make myself more comfortable of happy. According to Capitalist logic, I shouldn’t be writing since I have no motive- no reason for doing so. Quite simply, this logic is flawed. Yes people will do almost anything for money- after all, the single purpose of Capitalism is money- but there are other motivations. People will do things because they are physically forced to do them (slavery), people will do things out of fear for their wellbeing or the wellbeing of others (extortion, blackmail), and people will do things because they love doing it. Of course, the greatest of these is love- after all, even when enslaved or extorted, people will do the least amount of work possible. When they are doing what they love doing, however, the activity doubles as the end goal. In these cases, they will do as much work as possible.

Take the example of Giotto Di Bondone. Born in the late 1260s in Tuscany, Giotto was a shepherd boy who taught himself to paint. He was not being paid and was not coerced in any way to paint, he painted simply because he enjoyed painting. One might describe him as an “amateur” and while that word today often connotes substandard, Giotto’s paintings were anything but inferior. Indeed, Giotto’s abilities were so impressive that legends spread claiming he could paint a picture of a ewe so realistic that a lamb would confuse it with its actual mother, and that Giotto could draw a perfect circle without the use of any device. In short, Giotto, an uneducated, untrained Tuscan peasant was as a child a better artist than the best-paid painter in Florence (of course, Giotto eventually was paid to paint, but the fact remains that he was a gifted and prolific painter even before he became a professional).

Now this opens up a world of possibilities.

What if we all did jobs according to our talents, rather than our need to pay the bills or desire to become “wealthy” (again, the concept of true wealth will be discussed later)? What if everyone who was skilled at painting, math, cooking, and speaking could become artists, mathematicians, chefs, and orators? If everyone could become what they are talented at (and I’ve yet to find a person who doesn’t enjoy his or her talents) then we would have more work accomplished at a higher quality. It is this that Communism attempts to achieve: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”.

Of course, one might argue that Capitalism attempts to achieve this as well, but this is simply not true. Granted, there are a fortunate few who can pay the bills and do what they love, but in reality the cast majority of people aren’t so lucky. Thousands- no, millions– of would be inventors, mechanics, actors, politicians, farmers, athletes, cooks, designers, musicians, programmers, and composers never get to be anything more than day-laborers, waiters, drug dealers, prostitutes, and street-sweepers. Is it because they didn’t try hard enough? Possibly, there is a handful who are, quite simply, lazy. But to state that the millions of poor, the hungry, and homeless are the way they are out of choice is ridiculous. Most never had the money to pay for a decent education, preventing them from ever rising out of the gutter. Others are simply held back by bills and debt. Still others are simply unlucky, some unforgiving disaster reducing them to taking whatever work is available. In the Capitalist world, it takes every ounce of energy to keep your head above water, let alone find a job doing what you love to do.

Of course, that doesn’t stop us from trying. Some attempt to struggle through Capitalism to achieve their dream job, others turn their talents into hobbies, instead of careers, and still others- such as myself- attempt to bring about a system based on people doing what they love. The astronomer Galileo once commented that he did not “…believe the same God that would endow us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgoe their use…”. Like Galileo, I do not believe that humans, gifted with the talents to compose a beautiful symphony or sing like angels, are meant to push aside their skills to make room for their careers. Instead, let as all be professional amateurs.

13
Jul
09

The Hypocritical Hippocratic Oath

Since the time of Ancient Greece, doctors, physicians, healers, and surgeons have sworn the Hippocratic Oath- a solemn vow to “To hold him who has taught me this art as equal… if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art—if they desire to learn it—without fee and covenant… I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice…”.

Or at least, this was the oath that was taken in the time of Hippocrates- to whom the authorship of the oath is attributed. Of course, the modern Hippocratic Oath has changed greatly over the past two and a half millennia. The contemporary text, adapted in 1964, focuses primarily on treating patients not as “a fever chart, [or] a cancerous growth” but as actual people, while also promising respect the privacy of patients and to not “play God”.

So what’s the issue? While the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath makes good points, it lacks certain fundamental elements found in the original oath. While the original oath made doctors obligated to teach each other’s children (if willing to learn) free of charge. Today, learning to become a doctor takes eight years (minimum) and costs a small fortune (medical university is far from cheap). The original oath also ordered doctors to protect their patients from “injustice”. Not disease, not infection, but injustice. This part of the oath is nowhere to be found in later versions.

Now the first section discussed- the section concerning the mutual instruction of the medically aspiring children of fellow doctors- is perhaps understandable. With today’s advances in the fields of medicine, surgery, and pharmaceuticals, it is understandable that this part of the original oath is no longer applicable- after all, there’s only so much any one doctor can know. Nevertheless, one can’t help but imagine what society would be like if doctors- all doctors- were obligated to teach. If anyone willing and diligent enough to learn medicine could study medicine regardless of how rich or poor he was, what would our world look like? Would we have eliminated cancer by now? Would we have the cure for the common cold?

One can really only guess. This is, after all, the great, good, and glorious Capitalist system where a person’s quality of education (or very existence thereof) is determined by the size of his wallet (though the issue of Capitalist/Communist education has been covered in previous posts).

And what of the section concerning a doctor’s duty to protect his patients from injustice? One can easily see why this part would be taken out of newer versions. This is a Capitalist society where medical treatment, like almost everything else, is merely a commodity to be bought and sold. If a patient is dying but cannot afford the treatment that would save him, the doctor is left with an irresolvable quandary. On one hand the doctor has a patient who cannot afford the treatment he needs to live, on the other hand, the laws of Capitalism state that anything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it. So the doctor is presented with a single, impossible option. If he goes along with the “purchase-worth-price-paid” logic, he’d be forced to conclude that since the dying man will not (because he cannot) pay for the treatment, he would rather not live and is therefore suicidal and best committed to a mental institution. Since the man clearly isn’t suicidal, the doctor must either (1) state that the Hippocratic Oath is fundamentally flawed or (2) state that Capitalism is fundamentally flawed. Fortunately, the doctor will not decision. Since, as the advocates of Capitalism would have us believe, Capitalism is completely compatible (perhaps the only system compatible) with justice, the entire situation is a logical paradox and therefore this situation can never exist.

Yeah, right.

Despite [deeply flawed] logic, these situations exist all across the globe, not only for life-or-death situations but almost any medical issue, from cough medicine to prosthetic limbs to brain surgery. The Hippocratic oath, so long as it is practiced in a Capitalist society, will always be a sad hypocrisy. The ugly truth is that Hippocratic oath- even the contemporary Hippocratic oath- will never be able to mesh with Capitalism. There will always be a conflict between ethics and economics, and frankly, if there’s a choice between the two I think it’s pretty obvious which option I’ll take.

And for this reason I submit that we do away with the Capitalist system and replace it with something better. A system where anyone who chooses to be a doctor can be a doctor and have the best medical education available. A system where any person sick, injured, or dying has the opportunity to be treated, and by doctors who are doing so out of the love of their profession and sense of justice and humanity- not self-interest and greed. A system where doctors are never forced to choose between economic feasibility and the Hippocratic oath.

The Capitalist health system is terminally ill, and I believe that this is a physician unable to health itself. Yes, the Capitalist system is in place and has been for a long time, however, as time goes on and the line between justice and injustice becomes more distinct, more pronounced, it is only a matter of time before the people revolt against a system based on flawed-logic and hypocrisy.