Friday, March 9, 2018

The Heartbreak Of Socialism

     (Not to be confused with its predecessor, “the heartbreak of psoriasis.”)

     According to her Washington Post online resume:

     Elizabeth [Breunig] grew up in Texas, graduated from Brandeis with honors in 2013 and attended the University of Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar, where she earned her master’s in Christian theology. She joined the New Republic in 2015 as a staff writer, and in early 2016, she became an assistant editor for The Post’s Outlook section, commissioning and editing thoughtful stories on big ideas. Elizabeth lives in Washington D.C. with her husband Matt and her daughter Jane.

     Given that graduation date and her youthful appearance, she’s young: possibly no more than thirty. Given the sentiments she expresses in this article:

     In the United States, we’ve arrived at a pair of mutually exclusive convictions: that liberal, capitalist democracies are guaranteed by their nature to succeed and that in our Trumpist moment they seem to be failing in deeply unsettling ways. For liberals — and by this I mean inheritors of the long liberal tradition, not specifically those who might also be called progressives — efforts to square these two notions have typically combined expressions of high anxiety with reassurances that, if we only have the right attitude, everything will set itself aright.

     Hanging on and hoping for the best is certainly one approach to rescuing the best of liberalism from its discontents, but my answer is admittedly more ambitious: It’s time to give socialism a try.

     ...she’s not yet terribly well acquainted with reality. But then, the young haven’t had that much of an opportunity to learn, and young women who’ve gone directly from a contemporary university to writing op-ed for left-wing publications have had less than their coevals. Possibly none at all.

     The esteemed Mike Hendrix has disemboweled that essay, as have others in the Dextrospheric Commentariat. I’m not here to do that. Rather, I intend to use it to address a perennial political folly: how it begins, how it evolves, how it dissolves...and the causticity of the dissolution products.

     “Ignorance is of a peculiar nature; once dispelled, it is impossible to reestablish it. It is not originally a thing of itself, but is only the absence of knowledge; and though man may be kept ignorant, he cannot be made ignorant.” – Thomas Paine

     The C.S.O. has a theory that one can’t really lie to oneself – that at some level of the mind one knows the truth, however unpleasant, despite all attempts to evade it. She might be right; I can’t really say. But after watching the process at close range for many years, I can say how one comes to believe a pretty lie. The lie of interest today is, of course, socialism.

     First and foremost, as the Paine quote above says, one cannot be made to accept a falsehood, however attractive, if one is already in possession of a countervailing truth, properly supported by evidence. Mind you, one can be coerced into parroting a lie, as many subjects of totalitarian dictatorships can testify. But to make one sincerely believe in a lie, once he has been acquainted with the truth via sound reasoning and evidence, is impossible.

     Thus, socialism, like other political phantasms, must be nurtured in the young and untutored. Concurrently, their “instructors” must contrive to insulate them from countervailing thinking and evidence. Often, subsidiary falsehoods – e.g., about what the conditions of life “really” were in the Soviet Union – are required, just as the proofs of many important theorems in geometry require that certain “lemmas” be proved first. But above all else, the young target must be screened against “ugly little facts” if he is to become a “true believer.”

     There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong. – H. L. Mencken

     Second, but more or less concurrent with the above, the young target must be persuaded to view public affairs as a study in “problems” and “solutions.” In other words, the mindset of mathematics must be superimposed upon social, economic, and political conditions. Disliked conditions must be characterized as “problems” to be addressed. Consideration of whether those conditions are inherent in the nature of Man is to be discouraged. And of course, where there are “problems,” the young target must be conditioned to demand “solutions.”

     For example, consider human inequality. This is so basic a matter as to admit of no discussion. No two individuals are equal in any objective sense; how could we expect their achievements and attainments to be equal? Yet the young target will be encouraged to see inequality, especially economic inequality, as a “problem” that must be “solved.” His mentor must see to it that his passions are linked to the “problems” he sees, such that “solving” them becomes a matter of personal emotional fulfillment.

     The young target who invests emotionally in this fashion comes to identify with the “problem” and the need for a “solution.” That is, his sense of self-worth becomes bound to it; it becomes his Cause. The attachment will constitute a source of moral self-elevation. It cannot be severed without damaging his opinion of himself, which of course he will protect most devotedly.

     “Under capitalism, man exploits man; while under socialism just the reverse is true.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

     Third, the young target must be persuaded to believe that the “solutions” to the “problems” he has been taught to see all inhere in socialism: the expropriation of the “propertied class” and the “bourgeoisie,” such that “the workers” can thence direct the “means of production” to their own advantage. Note that the mental conditions imposed upon him in the previous two segments are indispensable to this:

  • The target has not learned about the history of socialist systems and their demises.
  • He now thinks of economic inequality as a “problem” that demands a “solution.”
  • He has invested his passion in the matter, such that whatever “solution” presents itself will acquire his passionate allegiance.
  • Socialism now applies for his allegiance by presenting the “solution” he seeks so ardently.

     If the target’s assumptions about “equality” and “inequality” can be maintained, socialism can be made attractive to him. After all, the expropriations would put “the workers” in charge. There would no longer be a “propertied class” or “bourgeoisie;” all would perforce become “workers.” Thus, equality of control over the “means of production” would have been achieved. “Naturally” that would lead to “equality” of economic outcomes for all the “workers.”

     The target will be taught to dismiss the objections of the more knowledgeable and realistic as “classism:” an understandable attempt to retain a “privileged status.” As that harmonizes with his desire to believe himself morally superior to others, he’ll take to it easily.

     “Do you know why being a revolutionary doesn't work in this country? Being a revolutionary in America is like being a spoil sport at an orgy. All these goodies being passed around and you feel like a shit when you say no.” – cynical ex-revolutionary Howard Eppis in The Big Fix, from Roger Simon’s novel of the same name.

     The decay of socialist affiliation will begin if the target, having lived a bit and learned, as one must if one is to live decently, about human nature and the realities that proceed from it, realizes that socialism is not a “solution” to anything. As it’s a magnet for persons who want power over others, it incorporates dynamics that exacerbate inequality among men while simultaneously impoverishing the great majority and investing the ruthless minority with unbounded and absolute power. There are now two possible courses the no-longer-so-young socialist:

  • He can rationalize it in some fashion, and plot to become one of the “commissars;”
  • He can begin to move away from it.

     To be sure, some American socialists retain their faith in it lifelong. Somehow, they manage never to lose the illusions that underpin that faith. Most, however, eventually learn better. What makes the difference then is the possession of adequate humility. Those who lack it will either remain socialists cosmetically – i.e., in hope of attaining personal status and power after the postulated revolution – or will become cynical, dismissive of all social theories and ideological conceptions as confidence games. Those who possess it will gradually disabuse themselves of socialism’s assumptions as they acquire knowledge and perspective.

     An important contributing factor must be mentioned here: the propensity for envy. We’re all susceptible to envy in some degree; it takes a lot of character always to view others’ advancement over or past oneself without rancor. The envious can sometimes be induced to remain in the socialist fold out of envy, by inducing them to see their envy as a desire for justice: “Why should he have it and you not?” Of course, in this use of the word justice, one can easily see the lineaments of another, less praiseworthy emotion: the desire for revenge.

     “Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men. The little man has no way to judge and the shoddy lies are packaged more attractively. There is no way to offer color to a colorblind man, nor is there any way for us to give the man of imperfect brain the canny skill to distinguish a lie from a truth.” – Hartley M. “Kettle Belly” Baldwin, from Robert A. Heinlein’s novelette “Gulf”

     It might come to some of his admirers as a surprise, but the young Heinlein held to very different convictions than the later one. The above, from his early novelette “Gulf,” suggests that the young Heinlein would approve of the sort of “organization of supermen” that the quoted character operates. The idea that human society would eventually stratify into a superclass of highly gifted natural rulers and protectors and a subclass whose affairs are to be managed for them can also be found in his novel Beyond This Horizon. As always, the rationale is inevitability:

     'The idea is to skim the cream of the race's germ plasm and keep it biologically separate until the two races are permanently distinct. You chaps sound like a bunch of stinkers. Kettle Belly."
     "Monkey talk."
     "Perhaps. The new race would necessarily run things—"
     "Do you expect New Man to decide grave matters by counting common man's runny noses?"
     "No, that was my point. Postulating such a new race, the result is inevitable. Kettle Belly, I confess to a monkey prejudice in favor of democracy, human dignity, and freedom. It goes beyond logic; it is the kind of a world I like. In my job I have jungled with the outcasts of society, shared their slumgullion. Stupid they may be, bad they are not. I have no wish to see them become domestic animals."
     For the first time the big man showed concern. His persona as "King of the Kopters," master merchandiser, slipped away; he sat in brooding majesty, a lonely and unhappy figure. "I know, Joe. They are of us; their little dignities, their nobilities, are not lessened by their sorry state. Yet it must be."...
     "No, Joe. The gulf between us and them is narrow, but it is very deep. We cannot close it." [Ibid]

     But one who advances such a thesis is highly unlikely to think of himself as belonging to the underclass, his life to be managed by his inherent superiors. Heinlein learned better. To retain their humanity, those who eventually disaffiliate themselves from socialism must do the same. The alternative is a bitter cynicism that leads to the conviction that what matters is power and ruthlessness: the “dog-eat-dog” philosophy of the predator.

     But some socialists never do learn better. Some remain behind a “fact-proof screen” (Eric Hoffer) lifelong. There are many striving to erect such screens and to confine young, idealistic Americans inescapably behind them. And there you have, in a nutshell, the reason the strategists of socialism are so determined to control all the popular conduits of information and deny those who differ with them any platform from which to speak.

     I may return to this subject. Watch this space.

No comments: