Sunday, October 26, 2008

Diluted meaning.

Communist. Socialist. Terrorist.

Is it just that the words are now too familiar? They've lost their meaning?

I'd define socialism as a form of government that compels people to work for the state. A form of government that cannot tolerate individualism. It's the opposite of what we know and love.

What do you think?

37 comments:

mresquan said...

Are you saying that any state which maintains a military and funds it heavily through tax dollars is a Socialist state?Was the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act not an act of Socialism?Was the government bailout not an act of extreme Socialism?Can we one truly argue that the Bush administration has not been a Socialist administration?Why should one believe that McCain wouldn't follow in these footsteps of Socialism when he stands side by side with so many in this administration and in the Senate and in Congress?

Anonymous said...

Rose, you're mixing apples and oranges.

Democracy and dictatorship are forms of government. Socialism and capitalism are economic systems.

For me, democracy is the important part. As long as we have democracy, individual freedom will be preserved.

Moderate forms of both socialism and capitalism allow for individual freedom.

Undemocratic extremes (Stalin's socialism and Pinochet's capitalism) are the real problem.

Rose said...

I'm not really mixing them. Each can stand alone - Address them separately..

What I'm getting at its, they are words that, when someone SAYS them, they lose their audience. Why is that?

Is it because people think they know what it means? Is it like reefer madness, they've just decided that it's all scare and no there there?

"Bob" said...

With "Communist" and "Socialist" I don't think it's familiarity that's the problem, it more that they're words that are loosely defined or that have shifted in meaning.

I'll add that lately Socialist and terrorist have become political buzzwords with implied meanings that go beyond their actual definitions.

Looking at Communism, let's take the Chinese economy as an example. With the failure of the Cultural Revolution, the government (which incidentally, does not seem to tolerate individualism) switched to a mix of government ownership of business and private ownership. Is it still a Communist country? Sort of. And the anon above is right in suggesting that you're mixing up economics and governance. China has a totalitarian government where individual will is wholly subservient to the state, but it's not strictly a Communist country at this point.

You define socialism as "a form of government that compels people to work for the state." I don't know that there is any government that doesn't do that to some degree. Is there somewhere in the world where the government does not collect any taxes? That's how we pay for things like roads, our water system, and what the founders of this country described as "the common defense."

It's all a matter of degree. Look at Europe and pretty much every government is socialist to varying degrees (and I don't believe that individual freedom is compromised.) Our democratic government is partially socialist too, but less so than others.

Forgive me for straying from theory to practical application of the words you threw out there. "Socialist" has become a Republican buzzword since John McCain thrust poor Joe the Plumber into the national spotlight. McCain uses Joe's take on Obama's tax plan to claim he's advocating socialism -- why? Because Obama's tax plan calls for a return to a more progressive tax plan, one where the rich pay more because they earn more. Of course anyone who does their own Income Taxes knows that's already the way it works. The more you make, the more they take. It's called a progressive tax. (Rose, you could add "progressive" to your list of misunderstood and misused words.) The progressive tax goes back to Adam Smith, the father of modern economics.

Smith wrote in his major work, The Wealth of Nations, "The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess... It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."

Of course there's more to it than that. The Democratic view of government is different from the Republican view in broad strokes. The Dems see government as "of the people, by the people and for the people" and want it to do more to help the people who live here by putting more into things like schools and health care. The Republicans want government to do less and in fact would like to dismantle the government. They want it to "get out of the way." What was it Grover Norquist said? " "My goal is to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Now that would lead to greater individual freedom, if that's what you mean by individualism, but also to anarchy.

Up until the 2006 election the Republicans had control of the White House and Congress. Did they actually reduce the size of government in six years? Well, as they were loosening regulations on the businesses run by their rich supporters -- applying the old "free market" rule -- government spending grew by leaps and bounds, as did presidential power. They couldn't collect enough taxes to pay for the war and everything else they wanted to buy, so they borrowed gobs of money from our old "Communist" enemies in China, who are now successful entrepreneurs and bankers.

I don't know if it's the same "individualism" you're talking about, but they also instituted all sorts of new restrictions on individual freedoms, at huge expense, all in the name of the so-called "War on Terrorism."

So, what is a "terrorist"? My dictionary says it's "a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims," which would include everything from a jihadist suicide bomber to an evangelical zealot who blows up abortion clinics and survivalist types like Timothy McVeigh.

Can we wage a war on a tactic? I think not, but that's a question for another day.

Eric V. Kirk said...

Socialism has many definitions, and socialists themselves don't agree on what it means. No way to do the topic justice in a blog post when volumes have been written on the subject. I strongly recommend an anthology entitled simply "Socialism" by Irving Howe. If you define it simply as any government intervention in the economy, we've had socialism from the first moment a neanderthal clan intervened when two of its members fought over a kill. If you take the more narrow definition, it doesn't exist until all of the means of production are in direct ownership and control of the state. You have socialism defined as the extension of democracy into the economic realm. You have socialism defined as the accomplishment of equitable distribution of wealth.

By some definitions the existence of publicly owned libraries, schools, and sidewalks is socialism. By even more definitions, Social Security is socialism.

Then you have socialism defined as a way of life rather than a broad socioeconomic system, express in communes, collectives, and cooperatives - each an institution of socialistic expression at different degrees.

I've been asked over the years whether I still consider myself a socialist. I guess it's relative. If you call yourself a "socialist," you probably don't think I'm a socialist, because I'm not radical enough for you. If you're conservative, you would probably consider me a socialist. Those who think about things have settled on a term which probably generally describes me - "social democrat."

A "communist" is generally a socialist who believes that class struggle must ultimately end in the overthrowing of capitalism by force, whether it involves the overthrow of an existing government or the government expropriation of capital holdings. In Marxist terms it represented the stage of humanity beyond socialism. The purpose of government being to protect the wealth of classes, socialism having eliminated class, the government would simply "whither away" for a lack of purpose. The philosophy doesn't even consider the draw of power independent of material gain. It presumes that the ultimate goal of any political desire is material wealth, either individually or collectively. Orwell tried to convince his fellow socialists that power itself is sometimes the end, even over material wealth. It didn't register, and millions died. Well, millions had already died, but there were plenty of people before Orwell who made the same warnings. There were even some in the Russian revolution, but most of them were killed early, and the few who survived were taken out by Stalin over the next couple of decades.

As for "terrorist" well, I have no idea how to define that. The general definition appears to be any violent act perpetrated by a political ideology contrary to your own. More broadly speaking, it's the use of violence to scare people in such a way as to attain certain political goals. That broadly speaking, even the "good guys" commit terrorism. Were the tar and feathering of Tories during the American Revolution terrorism? Was John Brown a terrorist? Spartacus? The French Underground?

Is all terrorism bad?

Rose said...

Well, I think people had gotten complacent about the word "Socialist" - it has no meaning when we are so safe and insulated from it.

But, Joe the Plumber has really shown people that the word has meaning, and that it applies to them.

Anonymous said...

Hummmmmmm

What do you call it when someone goes into the local bank and uses a gun to "redistribute" some wealth?

Hey Eric does this mean it's OK for some guys from the bay area to rip off sohum growers of their pot so they can sell it for more in Oakland and redistribute that wealth?

Eric you made excuses for paul gallegos and you will make excuses for obama. you won't admit you were wrong about Gallegos but you know you were.

Stephen said...

By their fruits ye shall know them. If one is a practicing Christian, i.e., one who follows the teachings of Jesus, it is pretty well impossible to be a capitalist which based on hoarding, on withholding goods made by the community for the community for the benefit of oneself or one's immediate circle. This is why Jesus comes down so heavily against the rich. Socialism really is the term for democratic distribution of the community's goods and services and the work required to produce them. It is a fair and just system while a money system based on hoarding will inevitably produce what capitalism always does--a dysfunctional society yo-yo-ing from prosperity to recession to depression as there is no rational system of distribution of goods except fads and marketing competition to inspire false buying desires. If we want sanity in our daily lives we have to go to system that treats society as a whole and not one where components are at war with each other. I'm a Christian communitarian capitalist where "capital" is socially defined vs. individually defined, i.e., we are all in this together, all hands united, and let's all make it work together cooperatively instead of destructively.

Robin Shelley said...

Do we have democracy in this country, 6:33?

Anonymous said...

Well Robin I'm not 6:33 but I thought so. After all the voter fraud uncovered I'm starting to thinnk we may not.

Obama is a lawyer for Acorn, Obama gives out funds to Acorn, and now there is ample proof that Acorn has been commiting voter fraud for Obama. Maybe they are hoping for some of that re-distributed wealth?

Fred said...

" As long as we have democracy, individual freedom will be preserved."

That's complete BS. Democracy has nothing to do with liberty. As a wise man once observed:

"Fifty one percent of a nation can establish a totalitarian regime, suppress minorities and still remain democratic". - Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ said...

Rose,
You should have included racism, extremism and homophobia in the terms undergoing radical definitional metamorphosis. All of these terms have become merely epithets to be hurled at anyone with which one refuses to debate.

Fred is right. A wag defined "democracy" as: "3 wolves and 2 sheep voting on what's for lunch."

Snickerdoodles said...

People, people, people: Rose -- like her heroic candidate -- was trying to provoke us into a desperate and bitter struggle over words ... instead -- like the voting populace -- we're unmoved, and getting along scrumptiously -- even Stephen and Eric.

Where's the conflict? This would make a boring movie ...

OY, and to you unenlightened semanticists: We live in a REPUBLIC -- not a Democracy -- yes, we do engage in a pseudo-democratic process, wherein we vote for "electors" who then -- ostensibly -- vote for our Presidential candidate of choice. But we do not vote directly.

If every vote counted as a Democracy, then the Supreme Court would have yielded to the majority vote and installed Gore.

Likewise: Congress is a Republican form of representation. We, as individuals, do not write, vote, or carry out the law of the land. We vote for representatives that then do all these things for us (again, ostensibly). A Republic.

Not. A. Democracy. Not now. Not. Ever.

Wake. Up. Smell. Coffee.

Our founding (federalist) fathers saw the danger of a dominant majority -- that's why they created a Republic.

Read Federalist Paper #10 for an expanded explanation.

but here's a quote that seems apt:

"So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts."

In that note: Screw all of you!!!

Rose said...

No snickers, this discussion isn't a lecture hall, it is about what the words mean to people right now, vastly different in today's world than what they meant to the people who actually lived with the threat of, or lived under that particular type of rule... calling someone a commie is more likely to elicit a scoff than fear.

Yet no one REALLY wants to live in a country where they are forced to work for the state.

We're much better than that - so why are you so cavalier?

Stephen said...

Rose, I've been against U.S. foreign policy most of my life. Most of my working life the U.S. has taken my tax money without my permission to spend it on these foreign debacles called wars in which the U.S. tries to clobber some undeveloped brown-skinned inhabited Third World nation and ends up with egg all over the U.S. reputation, not to mention usually leaving behind a mountain dead bodies. And I have to pay for this idiocy. I also have to pay for prisons being built that until quite recently housed people like me for our choice of recreational intoxicant. This is creepy socialism, Rose! What can we do about it!

Rose said...

It's very simple. You find a country that has laws you like and you move there.

Otherwise you sound like Connie Stewart, who once announced in a City Council meeting that Bush spends his life "killing little brown people."

Anonymous said...

Wait, I'm confused- When you say "Joe the Plumber" do you mean Samuel? Or do you mean Sam the unlicensed guy who worked for a plumber? Or do you mean Samuel, the unlicensed guy who worked for a plumber who doesn't pay his taxes? If that's who you are referring to, then he stands to benefit from Obama's plan because he makes well under 250000, and will even if he gets his plumbing license and buys out the owner! Before dreaming too big "Joe the Plumber," how about getting even with your taxes, and actually getting the license that is required to doing plumbing work in your state?

Jericho said...

From an email I received:
“Redistribution of wealth” proves a point I’ve long made: socialism is the philosophy of the loser. Only those in the bottom half of the bell curve want to be lumped in as average, because for them it’s a step up.

It’s like my suggesting to Bill Gates that he and I pool all our resources in an investment fund and then evenly split the profits. I’d be a little light on the front end, but pleased as hell on the back end. Now there’s some socialism I could get behind!


The reality is not quite so nice.

Eric V. Kirk said...

Hey Eric does this mean it's OK for some guys from the bay area to rip off sohum growers of their pot so they can sell it for more in Oakland and redistribute that wealth?

Sure. As long as it's part of a comprehensive Keynesian plan.

Really though, what you describe isn't redistribution. It's the ultimate in the free market. Laisse faire.

Eric V. Kirk said...

And how do we get so many posts from conservatives in a thread about socialism, and nobody's even brought up the cow analogy? You know, the one that parents in Nebraska teach their kids just before they go off to college with the idea that their kids will stump those socialist professors with such a deep metaphor.

Eric V. Kirk said...

But, Joe the Plumber has really shown people that the word has meaning, and that it applies to them.

Joe the Plumber's a socialist? Is he a Marxist-Leninist? I seriously doubt he takes the Fabian approach.

What does he think about social security?

No snickers, this discussion isn't a lecture hall, it is about what the words mean to people right now, vastly different in today's world than what they meant to the people who actually lived with the threat of, or lived under that particular type of rule... calling someone a commie is more likely to elicit a scoff than fear.

In other words, you can't use a single word to categorize and dismiss your opponent. The frame is gone.

Maybe it's because conservatives have played the card one too many times?

Eric V. Kirk said...

It's very simple. You find a country that has laws you like and you move there.

Well, in this quasi-democratic republic we have another option. We can change the laws here.

Rose said...

Maybe it's because conservatives have played the card one too many times?

Maybe, Eric. That's what I'm getting at.

Or is it that alot of people envision that they will get some sort of windfall under The Obama's new rule. Cash. Delivered from above. Who cares if it's socialism or communism or fascism. Short term benefits for all.

Stephen said...

You mean like the incentive give-away we just got under the Bush Admin? They took our rent rebate away so now maybe they'll give us another incentive so we can buy Xmas presents that will break down in 3 days and keep America from tanking..

There's only one fix for us really, and that's going a cooperatively independent locally as possible--just get off the grid and make everything ourselves that we can. Palco Community Corporation was the model for directing our local alternative energy people into creating workable self-sufficiency community building kits that served two purposes--providing disaster relief community re-building kits for local income production which in turn can be used right here for our own withdrawal from wasteful outside production.

The most efficiency economy has always been one where local needs are met by local production using local materials and local renewable energy sources for local consumption. This is what we should strive for and get off our dependency on the outside systems as much as possible. True freedom of mind rests on real "homeland" security, i.e., our homeland.

EkoVox said...

I would say the Blogger's Picnic paid off. Hee, Hee, Hee, my evil plan worked! Fellow bloggers are commenting communally in a civil manner. (Literally)

Snickerdoodles said...

Even if we are a tad "cavalier" in our exchanges ...

You Commies!!!

My point is that Red-baiting is a tactic that no longer applies in a post-Communist world -- but the recidivist McPalin camp continues to cling to it as their sole political lifeline.

Like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

Rose said...

Socialism is a parasite that will kill the host. Is that really what you want? In this country?

Comrade?

Eric V. Kirk said...

Oh, well I definitely oppose host-killing parasites.

I guess I'd say, let's take a look at the European systems which have produced the highest standards of living in the world. Obviously we can't model our system exactly like any of theirs, but I certainly think it's something to look at given that their lifespans are longer, poverty is less extreme, and they get an average of 60 8 weeks of vacation every year. Even in the bad times, it's not as bad as here for the bottom of the economic ladder.

Stephen said...

Also, Denmark people are the happiest people in the world according to one survey of world nations I saw recently. We've been suckered by Republicans who do not really know much about socialism except knee-jerk reactionary slogan thinking like you're starting to dish out, Rose, I think in frustration over Obama's popularity. These tired old "America is going to the socialist dogs" chants don't mean a blessed thing since "socialism" is inherent in any social government system that provides services to its constituents. From Republicans we get screaming "creeping socialism" whenever money is considered for the People's benefit vs. Businesses, especially war-connected businesses. These get gigantic "socialized" support from the get-go without a peep of protest from conservatives who are blind to this type of socialism whereas they've got big eyes for any money going to the poor created by poor economic planning and distribution of goods and services under a strictly for-profit economic system.

Eric V. Kirk said...

Denmark? Um, that's where my family comes from. It's a good place to live, but I wouldn't call the Danes happy. You've got two kinds of Danes - the happy Danes and the holy Danes. There are lots of holy Danes, and they aren't happy if they're happy.

Truly happy people don't serve lutvisk!

Stephen said...

Yeah, but happy ones serve ablesgivers or whatever they're called. But I have to agree. My one and only experience of sea-sickness happened when an old retired Danish guy who lived with his wife in the park my dad was caretaker for. He lived for fishing and took me out in his boat one day, fed me on liverwurst on pumpernickle bread, two new things my 10 year old stomach wasn't ready for on a small boat bouncing in swells about 2 or 3 miles off the coast. I did barf and was so retched looking the old man took pity on me and came in early. I was a water rat and never was sea-sick before or since that incident. Caught a sun fish that day though. Strange big flat fish. Not too long after that the old Dane drowned himself I think, or killed himself in some way because the doctors told him he couldn't fish any more due to heart problems.

Stephen said...

They were a very nice couple. Served my brother and me ablesgifers many times and one day I gobbled too many and that night ate a bunch of popcorn watching our new tv. Ohhh god..was I sick again..maybe there is something rotten in Denmark. And then there's Eric here..hmmmm..you know, Eric, I never connected that to you. I've always had a fond memory of being married in the "wee kirk of the heather"..

Stephen said...

I can hardly wait to become known as the prophet cartoonist with a nice cartoon Steve with his Paxcalibur sword in one hand and his pot bisquit in his other, telling the 500 "Ankh if your onery"!

Stephen said...

My God has a sense of humor and Muhammad's doesn't. Too bad. Dead bodies don't result from laughter.

"Bob" said...

re: Danes being the happiest people around, that was the premise of a 60 Minutes piece.

"What makes a Dane so happy and why isn't he wallowing in misery and self-doubt like so many of the rest of us?

That's a question that also intrigued Professor Kaare Christensen at the University of Southern Denmark.

"If you ask people on the street where they think the happiest country in the world, they'll say, you know, like, tropical islands and nice places, like Italy or Spain. Places with nice weather and good food. But in Europe, they're actually the most unhappy people," Dr. Christensen explains.

So Christensen and a team of researchers tried to discover just why Denmark finds itself on top of the happiness heap.

"We made fun of it by suggesting it could be because blondes have more fun. But then we could prove that the Swedes have more blondes than the Danes, and they were not as happy. So we tested different hypotheses," Christensen says.

After careful study, Christensen thinks he isolated the key to Danish anti-depression. "What we basically figured out that although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations they were pretty modest," he says.

By having low expectations, one is rarely disappointed."

So there you go.

the last stone said...

The reason those words have lost their power is because they are used inaccurately.

The people described as terrorists are not terrorists.

The people described as socialist are not socialists.

More importantly the people described as capitalists don't actually advocate for free and open markets or for the anti-trust actions necessary to protect functioning markets.

The king has no clothes.

Eric V. Kirk said...

Obama gets the soundbite.

That's why he's spending these last few days calling me every name in the book. I'm sorry to see my opponent sink so low. Lately, he's called me a socialist for wanting to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans so we can finally give tax relief to the middle class. By the end of the week, he'll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in Kindergarten.