Join 3,426 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Tending the Flame of Democracy
June 11, 2003 10:21 AM   Subscribe

"Our nation can no more survive as half democracy and half oligarchy than it could survive 'half slave and half free'" (alternative non-PDF link). "Understanding the real interests and deep opinions of the American people is the first thing. And what are those? That a Social Security card is not a private portfolio statement but a membership ticket in a society where we all contribute to a common treasury so that none need face the indignities of poverty in old age without that help. That tax evasion is not a form of conserving investment capital but a brazen abandonment of responsibility to the country. That income inequality is not a sign of freedom-of-opportunity at work, because if it persists and grows, then unless you believe that some people are naturally born to ride and some to wear saddles, it's a sign that opportunity is less than equal. That self-interest is a great motivator for production and progress, but is amoral unless contained within the framework of community. That the rich have the right to buy more cars than anyone else, more homes, vacations, gadgets and gizmos, but they do not have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else."
Bill Moyers "tends the flame of democracy."
posted by fold_and_mutilate (75 comments total)

 
**begins playing Battle Hymn Of The Rebublic on a malfunctioning Casio**
posted by jonmc at 10:33 AM on June 11, 2003


That a Social Security card is not a private portfolio statement but a membership ticket in a society where we all contribute to a common treasury so that none need face the indignities of poverty in old age without that help.

Wrong. Some people, for several reasons (health, physical handicaps, lack of skills, laziness, drug addiction) do not contribute to society at all, or else do so negatively. That doesn't mean they should be ignored, but still.

That tax evasion is not a form of conserving investment capital but a brazen abandonment of responsibility to the country.

Wrong. Tax evasion sometimes reflects an excessively harsh tax policy on those who earn more and feel the need to keep the capital they've accumulated. It's usually done within the boundaries of the law, btw.

That income inequality is not a sign of freedom-of-opportunity at work, because if it persists and grows, then unless you believe that some people are naturally born to ride and some to wear saddles, it's a sign that opportunity is less than equal.


Wrong. Inequality among humans reflect the natural order of life. Some people are more talented, more attractive, more resourceful than others. Equal opportunities is the best option society can offer, but it's an option not a certainty; other than that, nature prevails and yes, the truth is that some people are born to ride.

That self-interest is a great motivator for production and progress, but is amoral unless contained within the framework of community.

Pointless. Self-interest can only occur within society, otherwise it's just interest.

That the rich have the right to buy more cars than anyone else, more homes, vacations, gadgets and gizmos, but they do not have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else."

Wrong. The rights of the rich are no different from the rights of the poor; in public, they act like citizens; in private, they're allowed, within their own resources and the limits of the law, to foster whatever system they believe is more conducive to general prosperity; if betting on democracy (as opposed to alienation and petty protests) means defending common values and fostering meritocracy and fair competition, then everyone, including the rich, is entitled to support that kind of alternative.
posted by 111 at 10:45 AM on June 11, 2003


That doesn't mean they should be ignored, but still.

But still what? Physically handicapped people and drug addicts invalidate the idea of social security?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:58 AM on June 11, 2003


111, on a spectrum I would likely be closer to your position than I am to f&m's, but because of your bombastic reaction to the thread I no longer feel like contributing to it for fear of being thought of as being your supporter.

The fact that you responded only to points raised within the text of the post, makes me think you did not read the larger link, and your jerking knee is not at all nuanced.

All anyone is going to see is someone who wants their own way. Your partisan reaction fuels theirs and no one will consider anything said.
posted by thirteen at 11:09 AM on June 11, 2003


Great link Fold, and an interesting speech. I'm not sure I can contribute anything to a discussion that starts with 111 using the words "equal opportunity" and "some people are born to ride" in the same sentence. I'm just too dumbfounded to continue.
posted by krakedhalo at 11:13 AM on June 11, 2003


Some people, for several reasons (health, physical handicaps, lack of skills, laziness, drug addiction) do not contribute to society at all, or else do so negatively.

Selfishness.

Tax evasion sometimes reflects an excessively harsh tax policy on those who earn more and feel the need to keep the capital they've accumulated.

Greed.

Some people are more talented, more attractive, more resourceful than others.

Pride?

Deadly sins, collect the set today, and win a one way ticket to hell... ;)


posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:25 AM on June 11, 2003


jonmc: if you're interested, I threw up a brief history of the Battle Hymn on my website (inspired by the last episode of This American Life). Julia Ward Howe was only the end of the story.
posted by hammurderer at 11:32 AM on June 11, 2003


Some people are more talented, inteligent, resourceful, yet. Those peoples' kids, on the other hand, are generally spoiled, useless, unimaginative and lazy, and are given more chances to screw up and try again than any poor person could ever dream of. And therein lies the problem. One honest, hard-working individual who became rich by his own talent will almost certainly plague society with his or her offspring for generations to come.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:33 AM on June 11, 2003


There is a distinction between the meaning of "tax evasion" and tax loopholes. I might not pay any taxes but am legally supposed to: that is evasion.

Social Security: how many drug addicts etc can you name who get social security payments or pay into the system?

Wealth does in fact buy more democracy...even the founding fathers (just about all of whom were wealthy) originally wanted the vote to go for those with Property...not the low class-folks like me....Money buys lobby groups, candidates, gifts for them, influence and hence more democracy. You may not like this but it is the coffee we should be smelling.
posted by Postroad at 11:39 AM on June 11, 2003


quote: Inequality among humans reflect the natural order of life. (111)

I think slaveowners held this same view.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 11:53 AM on June 11, 2003


Social Security != Welfare. Get it right before you sprain that knee.
posted by Cerebus at 11:58 AM on June 11, 2003


Wrong. The rights of the rich are no different from the rights of the poor
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread."
-- Anatole France
But you seem to put it conversely: the law with majestic equality permits rich and poor alike to purchase compliant legislation.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:58 AM on June 11, 2003


Armitage, "but still" means: some people simply cannot contribute adequately (the handicapped/ill) and some people, because of their flawed characters and/or inadequate upbringing, do not contribute (drug addicts, promiscuous mothers who have children without the means to support them etc). Actually, many handicapped people manage to become active, productive members of society, whereas the weak-willed do nothing. So there are different kinds of welfare and social security that must be taken into account.

thirteen, you do not have to be my supporter. Nothing I said is new or original, so I'm merely restating a worldview which goes back to Aristotle, Marsilius of Padua, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman et al. My "kneejerking" doesn't have to be nuanced at all; it merely has to be right.

One honest, hard-working individual who became rich by his own talent will almost certainly plague society with his or her offspring for generations to come.

Coyote, one today's biggest problem is that the rich, who can afford raising children, have less kids, while the poor worldwide keep having too many babies. Except for spoiled, raised-by-celebrities kids, the children of the rich are certainly not worse than the children of the poor. Saying otherwise is biased if not resentful.

Postroad, I do not socialize with drug addicts.

even the founding fathers (just about all of whom were wealthy) originally wanted the vote to go for those with Property...

They were not alone: Socrates, Aristotle and Plato all had strongly (though different) merit-based views of democracy. They reflected a different context, but anyway democracy does not survive without rewarding true merit.

George_Spiggott, to be brief: democracy's most honored goal is promoting virtue and excellence without leaving anyone behind.

Finally, inpHilltr8r, I'm a Roman catholic so I try not to judge individuals, but your statement suffers from sloth.
posted by 111 at 12:23 PM on June 11, 2003


Let's hear it for value judgements disguised as facts.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:30 PM on June 11, 2003


anyone else notice what a putrid, encrusted asshole 111 is?
posted by quonsar at 12:34 PM on June 11, 2003


quote: Inequality among humans reflect the natural order of life. (111)

I think slaveowners held this same view.


Some people are great economists. Some people have more artistic talent. Some people work hard. Some people are lazy. Some people are strong. Some people are weak. Some people are inherently more intelligent than the rest. This is the 'natural order of life.'

Those peoples' kids, on the other hand, are generally spoiled, useless, unimaginative and lazy, and are given more chances to screw up and try again than any poor person could ever dream of.

Excuse the ad hominem here, my friend, but you are a fucking idiot. Not to mention very wrong.

anyone else notice what a putrid, encrusted asshole 111 is?

God forbid someone isn't a socialist around here. There's a hell of a lot more stereotyping, bigotry, and hypocrisy coming out of the liberal Metafilter mouths lately than the conservative/liberatian ones. Keep up the fight, 111.
posted by BirdD0g at 12:41 PM on June 11, 2003


Those peoples' kids, on the other hand, are generally spoiled, useless, unimaginative and lazy, and are given more chances to screw up and try again than any poor person could ever dream of.

Excuse the ad hominem here, my friend, but you are a fucking idiot. Not to mention very wrong.


I won't excuse that ad hominem: defend the point. I consider the laws of inheritance to be one of the greatest barriers to equality - some people start out with a gigantic advantage by pure luck. I was a scholarship kid at a prep school and those rich kids were not the least bit genetically superior to my friends at home; at my ten year reunion I discovered how many of them are still just kinda fucking around, with no worries about how to make a living. Some of them have great talents, but that's true of my less wealthy friends stuck in the 9-5, too.
posted by mdn at 12:51 PM on June 11, 2003


many of them are still just kinda fucking around, with no worries about how to make a living

and at least one of them is busy dismantling over 200 years of american freedom.
posted by quonsar at 1:00 PM on June 11, 2003


Aristotle, Marsilius of Padua, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman et al.

WTF? I am the only troubled by the thought of a natural progression being implied here.

Please, 111, read The Wealth of Nations. The free market and institutions of capitalism that SMith describes bear little resemblance to our all-powerful corporations of today. In fact, Smith himself decries the "personfied coropration" as the great spectre haunting capitalism. And it clearly, clearly, has fuck-all to do Friedman's neoliberalism, an expressly anti-market school of thought which eschews all structural ensurance of competition or of labor prices being market-driven.

If you like citing books so much, you should try reading them.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:02 PM on June 11, 2003


democracy's most honored goal is promoting virtue and excellence without leaving anyone behind.

When did that start? Democracy is, and always will be, the political leg of the race to mediocrity. I quite like it for that reason, I have to admit. Promoting virtue and excellence is not something I want my state to do, not in the least because I'm fairly sure it and I disagree over what virtue and excellence are.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:02 PM on June 11, 2003


Postroad, I do not socialize with drug addicts.

Don't be so sure.

* rolls welfare check into joint *
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:04 PM on June 11, 2003


My father was a relatively successful stock broker. I received scholarships for college, an art degree that I paid for, and now work as a graphic designer 40-50 hrs/week. Most of my friends are also doing well, whether their parents were as successful as mine or not. I never said that one class was better than another. It was you that said, 'in general' many of us are 'spoiled, useless, unimaginative, and lazy' just because our parents are successful. To that I say, 'Fuck you, bigot'.
posted by BirdD0g at 1:12 PM on June 11, 2003


Congratulations on your wonderful acheivement then, BirdD0g. Would you like a fucking cookie? Wil that make you feel better?

How about I replace 'in general' with 'so very often'. The rest of my statement stands.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:24 PM on June 11, 2003


'Fuck you, bigot'

BirdD0g, I am impressed at how you struggled through such a persecuted life and still remain so eloquent. Keep up the good fight brother.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 1:28 PM on June 11, 2003


Those peoples' kids, on the other hand, are generally spoiled, useless, unimaginative and lazy, and are given more chances to screw up and try again than any poor person could ever dream of.
Excuse the ad hominem here, my friend, but you are a fucking idiot. Not to mention very wrong.


I have a completely different perspective on this. I have many friends whose parents are wealthy, myself included. They give us the best chance to succeed in life they can with their resources. Yet, to call us spoiled and useless IS a ad hominem attack. I and many other "spoiled kids" pay their own way through college and other stuff. We look at our successful parents and want to be successful to. Now, I look at my friends whose parents are less than successful, lazy, and don't try to pass what they have on to their kids. THOSE kids are usually the selfish and lazy ones. All depends on whom you socialize with and to you blanket statements like you did is stereotyping at its worst.
Space Coyote, did you have some problem with rich kids when you were younger or something? Rich and poor people alike, I don't know many people who is venomous towards kids who are well off.
Lastly, lets say you're right that one successful adult will spawn a generation of little sloths? What should we do in that case? Try not to be talented, inteligent, resourceful?
posted by jmd82 at 1:30 PM on June 11, 2003


swerdloff - 'what about Heart medicine? Totally unbranded. No way to differentiate one from another.'

Whoa there, what's up with the straw man? Heart medicine, along with cornflakes in the example, could be identified by a number. There is no need to know who made it, if it works.

I do like logos though, personally. It is a pity that so much time, money and creativity is spent on advertising (just an example, 2 billion dollars a year!). by so many brilliant people, which serves not to culturally enrich the lives of the audience. I like sophisticated advertising as well, but the whole point of advertising in general is to make the audience feel insecure, before supplying the solution in the form of the product (which is very unlikely to actually reproduce the rapture suggested by the adertising). I am concerned about 'mind-space' being used up with the tedious minutae of the corporate attempts to decompartmentalise and brand every aspect of human life.

I watched America's Weakest Link (Kids Edition) recently, for my sins . I was astonished that probably 90% of the questions concerned cartoon characters, TV stars, pop stars, brand names, catch phrases and logos. And they still got some wrong! It was mostly scripted anyway, grumble grumble.

The problem, IMHO, with the idea that corporations are run for the good of society is simply that money is amoral. The economic system is amoral, success can be had by just about anyone who is willing to let no twinge of morality hamper their pursuit of profit. The money doesn't know if it is being used by sex-trafficers or by a charity, for instance.
There needs to be some control of the behaviour of corporations to ensure that what they are doing is for the good of society, globally. The system, as it stands, does not seem to be effectively protecting vast proportions of the worlds population from lives of indetured servitude, supporting the lifestyles of small proportions of the worlds population.

So in conclusion: logos good, advertising bad.

Consider what difference the global advertising budget would make as a charity donation. Just a thought.

This last year UK companies have had to declare the earnings of the directors in their annual reports, maybe people will be able to finally shake the torpor?
posted by asok at 1:47 PM on June 11, 2003


My favorite bit from the post:

"In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether "we, the people" is a spiritual idea embedded in a political reality – one nation, indivisible – or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others."

Moyers puts it right after the discussion of those privileged women who ". . .simply couldn't see beyond their own prerogatives."

My problem with the neo-cons and their ilk is that they operate by the motto "I've got mine, Jack!" Puts me in mind of that description of Dubya: "Born on third base and thought he hit a triple."

So Mefi's where does it fall in your life? Are you dedicated to "One nation indivisible" or perpetuating the charade to sustain your privilege at the cost of others?

And 111, I hope you never need to turn to the "community" for assistance in caring for a loved one.
posted by ahimsakid at 1:47 PM on June 11, 2003


Aaaah...the inaccurate use of history.

Wealth does in fact buy more democracy...even the founding fathers (just about all of whom were wealthy) originally wanted the vote to go for those with Property...not the low class-folks like me...

The "founding fathers" (oh how I cringe when I see/hear that term) were never advocates of democracy, so who cares? Go read the Federalist papers and see Madison make the historical analysis that all past "democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths." (Federalist 10)

They were not alone: Socrates, Aristotle and Plato all had strongly (though different) merit-based views of democracy. They reflected a different context, but anyway democracy does not survive without rewarding true merit.

Um maybe go re-read your Plato, because it was more like a scorn-based view of democracy. In fact, a lot of people have argued that Socrates was executed because of his ANTI-democratic ideology.
posted by wrench at 1:49 PM on June 11, 2003


111: Postroad, I do not socialize with drug addicts.

Good thing, because if you said any of that in the presence of myself or my friends, we would beat the hell out of you.
posted by son_of_minya at 1:56 PM on June 11, 2003


Or to put it another way, I'll choose your wage and you can choose mine. I have no concern for anybody other than myself.
Trebbles all round.

~hic~
posted by asok at 1:57 PM on June 11, 2003


asok, that would have been a fine comment in the branding thread. here, it's just out of context.
posted by quonsar at 1:57 PM on June 11, 2003


i meant this comment.
posted by quonsar at 1:58 PM on June 11, 2003


I apologize for my use of profanity.
posted by BirdD0g at 1:59 PM on June 11, 2003


i have no problem with rich kids, i wish i was one of them.

"Wrong. Inequality among humans reflect the natural order of life. Some people are more talented, more attractive, more resourceful than others. Equal opportunities is the best option society can offer, but it's an option not a certainty; other than that, nature prevails and yes, the truth is that some people are born to ride."

what i have a problem with is the continual insistence that a civilized society has no more responsibility to its members than that of the fictional 'state of nature,' and conversely the normal individual is accountable to that society. that kind of argument doesn't seem coherent to me. that some will succeed and that some will fail will happen, and i won't object to that either, but i do object to the starting line for many in terms of health, education and opportunities will be grossly different because of wealth, and i do object to there being no 'safety net' for those who are grossly at a disadvantage (i.e. old, grossly diseased or mentally retarded, etc) and it's hard to deny that this administration is making a concerted effort to further widen those lines and marginalize the responsibility of the society to the individual. murder and rape happen naturally in the natural order of life, does that mean we should ignore it?
posted by eatdonuts at 2:07 PM on June 11, 2003


Postroad, I do not socialize with drug addicts.

Don't be so sure.

* rolls welfare check into joint *
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 3:04 PM CST on June 11




Ignatius J. Reilly, that is very funny. I still laugh about this as well.
posted by four panels at 2:07 PM on June 11, 2003


So Mefi's where does it fall in your life? Are you dedicated to "One nation indivisible" or perpetuating the charade to sustain your privilege at the cost of others?

Is it also not possible that it costs me something in order for other people to be well off? Where do we draw the line? What makes it right for person 'x' to take something from me, but not right for me to take something from person 'x' (since thats apparently what i'm doing if I succeed or am privileged)?

posted by jmd82 at 2:08 PM on June 11, 2003


Conform, Birdd0g, thou transgressor!

In the future, please keep in mind that it's not bigotry if it's the majority viewpoint.
posted by UncleFes at 2:11 PM on June 11, 2003


Ah yes, sorry everyone, quonsar well spotted! / I thought it was such a great comment that I should just post it in every thread ; p Actually, Windows crashed on submit, which really shouldn't supprise me any more.

Also, missed this one out last time.
'“SUCCESS PLUS” – Doing great things in the right way
Success itself is being redefined – fundamental rethink about the purpose of corporations. Corporate responsibility will be far more widely interpreted. REAL SUCCESS will be everything we have previously taken for granted in high performing companies PLUS the highest ethical standards in all areas.'

*scuttles off to post same comment across entire interweb*
posted by asok at 2:16 PM on June 11, 2003


Ignatius J. Reilly, that is very funny. I still laugh about this as well.

Please help me get a job.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:19 PM on June 11, 2003


JMD82: Yes it's more than possible, it is inevitable. Sharing means having less of what you share. community has an inherent cost. However, it also means having the advantages community bestows. I'm not preaching pure socialism here.
I recognize greed as a wonderful force in motivating people. But I also recognize that corporations have no conscience . . . indeed, in most states the directors are compelled to make decisions based on the sole determinant of what is to the stockholder's benefit. Too much of this creates an oligarchic mess.

Yes, I've read "Atlas Shrugged" and I applaud all the rugged individualists out there. Nonetheless, I want to live in a community. That requires giving up something as well as taking something back. And to those who can't "see past their privileges" I say look around at what you are, in fact, "taking" . . . Should there be a hard and fast line drawn? Nah. But somehow we need to incorporate notions of charity into our society. There must be a way for us to move progressively . . . yes, from each according to their ability to each according to their need. Not as a state-enforced dictum, but as a way of promoting this democracy we want to preserve.
posted by ahimsakid at 2:29 PM on June 11, 2003


well, i just hate all of you and want to live alone surrounded by woods, water, little furry animals and a couple of 20 year old blondes. oh, and i want you all to support and entertain me while i'm doing it. when is dinner?
posted by quonsar at 2:40 PM on June 11, 2003


111 - I responded to your "point for point" with my own "point for point of your point for point". No name calling here though. I find that silly. [ Moyers' quotes are in " ", 111 responses are in ' ', my responses are italicized ] - Trout

"That a Social Security card is not a private portfolio statement but a membership ticket in a society where we all contribute to a common treasury so that none need face the indignities of poverty in old age without that help."

'Wrong. Some people, for several reasons (health, physical handicaps, lack of skills, laziness, drug addiction) do not contribute to society at all, or else do so negatively. That doesn't mean they should be ignored, but still.' (111)

Yes indeed, very true. And sometimes those who manage to detract from the public good do so by constructing great ponzi schemes which destroy the retirement savings accounts of thousands of loyal, hardworking corporate employees (as happened to the workers at Enron) and which amount to theft of public monies, massive upward wealth redistribution schemes which transfer money from the middle class to the wealthy elites, on a grand scale. (Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, Tyco.....and so on)

"That tax evasion is not a form of conserving investment capital but a brazen abandonment of responsibility to the country."

'Wrong. Tax evasion sometimes reflects an excessively harsh tax policy on those who earn more and feel the need to keep the capital they've accumulated. It's usually done within the boundaries of the law, btw.'

Americans are taxed at one the lowest rates in the wealthy industrialized world., while U.S. corporations often pay no taxes at all - due to elaborate tax evasion schemes which skirt the borders of legality. It amazing what wonders small armies of accountants and tax lawyers - and a byzantine tax code - can achieve. On the individual level, most U.S. citizens have neither time nor money to hire the talent to devise elaborate tax avoidance schemes. That province is reserved (by virtue of having the means) for the wealthiest.

"That income inequality is not a sign of freedom-of-opportunity at work, because if it persists and grows, then unless you believe that some people are naturally born to ride and some to wear saddles, it's a sign that opportunity is less than equal."


'Wrong. Inequality among humans reflect the natural order of life. Some people are more talented, more attractive, more resourceful than others. Equal opportunities is the best option society can offer, but it's an option not a certainty; other than that, nature prevails and yes, the truth is that some people are born to ride.'

111 - The issue here is "Nature vs. Nurture" or, more accurately, "Genotype vs. Phenotype" - Sure, some are "born to ride" (though I would not phrase it in that way, for it likens those being "ridden" to domestic animals).

Equality of opportunity has never, to the best of my knowledge, existed in modern societies. Hunter-gatherer societies would have come closest. But we are now far from that cultural stage. Yes, of course there are genetically driven differences betwen individuals. BUT........

Although there are real differences in genetic endowments among humans, these constitute, in the view emerging from relevant fields of research, the lesser part of the explanation for differences in intelligence, achievement, wealth and social rank. Most biologists and geneticsts would invoke here the genotype vs. phenotype distinction. genotype=DNA code for life, phenotype=the living creature which actually develops: that development is heavily contingent on surrounding conditions.

The assumption that one's station in life correlates perfectly with one's genetic endowment has been the standard argument invoked in defense of inequalities in society (and indeed) the overall social order since, at least, the Victorian Era. It was the underpinning of Social Darwinism and of the Protestant doctrines of Calvinism also. Furthermore, The assumption that's one's social and economic standing correlated perfectly with the quality of the "germ plasm" (the stand in concept which approximated DNA before DNA was actually discovered) was the exact rational used by the Eugenics Movement of the early 20th Century in the U.S., to argue for laws mandating the sterilization of those deemed to be "unfit" - a group predominantly black and poor.

Sterilization laws remained on the books in many U.S. States until the late 60's, and tens of thousands were sterilized against their will. It was later determined that many, if not most of those sterilized by the American Eugenics laws were most likely of average intelligence and that some of the seminal "studies" ( Goddard's "Kallikack" study, to cite one, relied heavily on invented data and even crudely and intentionally distorted photographs which proved "bestiality" ).

The American Eugenics movement, greatly admired by the Nazis, provided much of the inspiration for Hitler's "Final Solution". It was later determined that many, if not most of those sterilized by the American Eugenics laws were, most likely, of average intelligence.

But, in fact, human development at all stages - embryonic, neonatal, infant and early childhood, and so on - is heavily contingent on the surrounding environment which ( to acknowledge your basic observation of genetic difference) can either compensate for substantial deficits in genetic endowment (in the case children raised in "good" environments), or sabatoge the development of those unlucky enough to be born in "impoverished" conditions. [please excuse my didactic tone]




"That self-interest is a great motivator for production and progress, but is amoral unless contained within the framework of community."

'Pointless. Self-interest can only occur within society, otherwise it's just interest.'

Yes, human beings do not exist in isolation - they only exist in a social matrix. But the views of different cultures, as to the rights and responsibilities of the individual within a surrounding community, have varied widely within the fantastically wide range of human cultural 'experiments' which have existed throughout geography and time.

Especially in Western industrialized societies and, in particular, within the Anglo-American political tradition - we can and do challenge the obligations of individuals to their communities, to an extent which would astound most peoples from most cultures in the range of current known human history.

Individualism as a movement, though, certainly owes much to the vastly larger social grouping of nations which are very different entities from classic clans or tribes. As a movement, individualism is surely a positive counterweight to the overbearing power of the modern state, BUT........

Do we have ANY obligations at all to our neighbors and our fellow citizens? That is the question.

Or, to phrase it differently, why should I care if my neighbors lives in hovels and possibly even starve? Why should I have any obligations at all to them?

You tell me.


"That the rich have the right to buy more cars than anyone else, more homes, vacations, gadgets and gizmos, but they do not have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else."

'Wrong. The rights of the rich are no different from the rights of the poor; in public, they act like citizens; in private, they're allowed, within their own resources and the limits of the law, to foster whatever system they believe is more conducive to general prosperity; if betting on democracy (as opposed to alienation and petty protests) means defending common values and fostering meritocracy and fair competition, then everyone, including the rich, is entitled to support that kind of alternative.'

A dubious argument. First of all, if current trends in wealth concentration in the U.S. continue, we will within one or two decades achieve the wealth distribution profile which charactorizes countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador in which a tiny number of wealthy families constitute an oligarchic ruling class.

If 90% of a nation's wealth is owned by 1% of the population, would you maintain that this does not translate into expanded rights for that 1%?

The ability of money to buy rights is such a basic phenomenon - observed and reported on widely, throughout recorded history - that I do not think I am going too far, even, to liken your denial of this phenomenon to something like a denial of Gravity.

Money buys the services of lawyers and the friendship of politicians. It buys (indirectly) government contracts for one's corporation and, in general, it mediates the distribution of wealth and power in many ways - such as the right of broadcasters to "own" parts of the EMF spectrum. I would love to have my own radio show. How long do you think I could broadcast, from my house, on a "Clear Channel" owned band before FCC police came knocking at my door?

The rights of the wealthy are officially no different from those of the poor. In reality they are very different.

Money "buys" power through a whole range of means, and it dramatically amplifies the political "voice" of the wealthy: so much so that it would not at all be inaccurate (in my opinion) to say that wealth does indeed buy expanded rights and privileges, and that there is a loosely defined "ruling class" which enjoyed rights and privileges which I, in all likelihood, will never achieve. And yet I consider myself lucky indeed - for, by virtue of education and middle class status I enjoy, effectively, greatly amplified "rights" compared to poor Americans.



posted by troutfishing at 2:43 PM on June 11, 2003


My "kneejerking" doesn't have to be nuanced at all; it merely has to be right.


It's not right or wrong 111, but it's pretty freaking amusing. I'm curious to know where your feelings of superiority come from? I've spent my life getting by on my talent, and I've never worked a hard day in my life, and I enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle. Work ethic, and morals are for the birds, enjoy your life and stop worrying about the people on welfare. Compared to the companies on corporate welfare some lady and her 3 children eating on my dime doesn't get me upset, but when some company takes a bunch of tax breaks, breaks a union, and then still moves jobs to another country, now that annoys me a bit.

The problem these debates always have is that the capitalist loving folks fail to realize that if you abuse the little guys and gals too much you are biting the hand that feeds you. Who do you think buys your products and services? Who do you think falls for your ponzi schemes, and buys your faulty products? The same people you call lazy, stupid, and ignorant are the ones you need. Americans consume like no other, and if you keep up the current bullshit of tax cuts, and the cutting of social programs, you'll one day find the well has run dry. It takes a happy balance between capitalism, and socialism to keep a society moving, and if you refuse to see this then you are a hopeless fool who deserves to be ridiculed and laughed at.
posted by jbou at 2:46 PM on June 11, 2003


Yes, I've read "Atlas Shrugged" and I applaud all the rugged individualists out there.

Yes, and don't forget Atlas Shrugged 2: An Hour Later...
posted by y2karl at 2:49 PM on June 11, 2003


Oh, one mo' thing ( *gnashes teeth at typos in excessively long and lecturing post * ) -

I forgot to mention the major contribution of the social/familial matrix to individual success or failure:

Where would GW Bush, had he been born instead into a poor inner city family, be now? In jail?

It takes a fortune (derived from dubious sources), it takes a father who is President, it takes a powerfull dynastic family, it takes.............
posted by troutfishing at 2:57 PM on June 11, 2003


Nonetheless, I want to live in a community. That requires giving up something as well as taking something back.

Maybe its a matter of semantics, but does living in a community really require giving something up? I'm not talking about an ethical standpoint, but by purely looking at that world today, I don't see that to be true.
posted by jmd82 at 3:04 PM on June 11, 2003


it takes a father who is President

head of the CIA don't hurt, either
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 3:05 PM on June 11, 2003


Y@Karl: Love it! Thanks!
posted by ahimsakid at 3:13 PM on June 11, 2003


Perhaps within my own environment of a university I am slightly bigotted against righ kids. However when I look at a kid who isn't dressed in expensive clothes, who doesn't drive a new car and who doesn't have a brand new computer and set of electronic toys every year, I can make an assumption about him or her: he or she almost certainly deserves to be here.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:25 PM on June 11, 2003


However when I look at a kid who isn't dressed in expensive clothes, who doesn't drive a new car and who doesn't have a brand new computer and set of electronic toys every year, I can make an assumption about him or her: he or she almost certainly deserves to be here.

This is interesting because acceptance into colleges is geared exactly what you seem to disdain, namely an advantage in talent, intelligence, and to an extent wealth. Do you base whether or not some deserves to be there based on their appearance or their actual aptitude in school? You may answer both, but would seem that you learn more towards the former. Not bashing, but just curious what you think.
posted by jmd82 at 3:29 PM on June 11, 2003


This is interesting because acceptance into colleges is geared exactly what you seem to disdain, namely an advantage in talent, intelligence, and to an extent wealth.

To untwist my words, I can simply assume that a kid who doesn't appear to have rich parents probably got into school through his or her own merits. The same correlation does not exist among kids whose parents are obviously bankrolling their post-highscohol adventures.

Any advantage in talent, intelligence or ?appearance? (who brought that up exactly?) doesn't indicate very much about the abilities or drive of the kid.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:39 PM on June 11, 2003


Please, 111, read The Wealth of Nations. The free market and institutions of capitalism that SMith describes bear little resemblance to our all-powerful corporations of today.

Ignatius, I did read the authors I mentioned; where I come from, usually you don't recommend what you never tried yourself. You seem to be taking about Smith's condemnation of cliquish, monopolistic guilds("people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public...") , which is coherent with his main tenet (free will and free markets are inseparable and mutually beneficial, but frail); it was, above all, a comment on Smith's contemporary affairs, which you seem to disregard.

Corporations are not necessarily evil, monopolistic behemoths; they're sometimes simply large-scale successful enterprises; if they do distort business as long as supply goes, they more than compensate for that through taxes, paradigm shifts, jobs etc.
Also the "natural price" thing is a little bit dated to say the very least.

Friedman's neoliberalism, an expressly anti-market school of thought which eschews all structural ensurance of competition or of labor prices being market-driven.

Please substantiate that somehow, as it is the most eccentric interpretation of Friedman I've ever read. If what you call structural ensurance (sic) means government intervention, certainly Friedman does reject it , because it prolongs a situation that's untenable in itself. Unfortunetely, the demands of the poor are not effectual demands, including those for a regular, minimum wage or for an increase in pay. Not when machines make industrial labor more and more redundant.

I suggest you reread the "Wealth of Nations" and, while you're at it, read David Landes' "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations".

Looking for the Smith's quotation on the Internet, I found a particularly good one:
"Rivalship and emulation render excellency, even in mean professions, an object of ambition, and frequently occasion the very greatest exertions."
posted by 111 at 3:53 PM on June 11, 2003


jmd82: Stop trying to understand liberals. Start trying to understand how you can make this world a better place.

Not to go off-topic, but... What's so sad about conservatives is how few of them really are rich, talented, or good-looking. I get a feeling that they're trying to control the world rather than change it. That they're trying to make themselves good by believing they're good, rather than by trying to do good things.

Maybe its a matter of semantics, but does living in a community really require giving something up?

No. That does in no way make you right, however.

It's the paradox of altruism. No one goes through life alone, yet everyone thinks they go through life alone. Sharing enriches both the giver and the receiver, yet it is so hard to believe this if you don't share. No one wants to be stolen from, and this fear prevents them from giving; just as no one wants to be rejected, and that fear prevents them from connecting with the people they care about.

It is perfectly reasonable to be both an over-acheiver in business, and a good person. It's just a question of priorities.

111: You're making a lot more sense now, but unfortunately you're also completely off-topic.
posted by son_of_minya at 3:56 PM on June 11, 2003


if they do distort business as long as supply goes, they more than compensate for that through taxes, paradigm shifts, jobs etc.

Ha ha ha ha ha. Ahem. Thanks, that was great.

Now, let's see, first you said "taxes." They "more than compensate" by going unpaid by various means including reincorporating offshore or simply rewriting the tax code for exemptions, credits and loopholes, and handing these rewrites to the legislature to become law. The "compensation" presumably consisting of the campaign contributions that buys passage of such legislation. Splendid, well done.

Onward to "paradigm shifts". By this you're presumably referring to marvelous new bookkeeping inventions such as those explored by intrepid financial pioneers Enron and Global Crossing? I see your point, bravo.

That leaves "jobs". Kinda like the ones being exported wholesale to Asia, right?

I love your simple declarative sentences, a.k.a. bald assertions. They're classic question-beggers.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:11 PM on June 11, 2003


Well, many mistakes on the comments above, so I'll stick to some that matter the most, starting with my own: unfortunAtely.

wrench, no; Plato still saw the system(s) he discussed as equitable, but they weren't democracies as we see it nowadays. Same with Socrates, whose notion of democracy and justice is very aristocratic in itself; the idea that he may have been forced to commit suicide is not farfetched (but if you got it from Stone's "Trial of Socrates" it's not as simple as it says).

trout, I agree with everything you say except for the fact that your scenario is extreme; an extreme meritocracy can be dangerous, but a collectivist society is much worse (visit Eastern Europe for a crash course). Re the political powers for the rich, they're usually set against union pressures and the populist preaching of liberals (in the US sense); that kind of evens it out.

George, a corporation is not meant to be philantropic. It interprets the law and does whatever it can to maximize its profits and create new stuff that'll keep it ahead of the competition. Just as people do when they take coupons to the supermarket or look for loopholes to pay less taxes.
Two final questions:
-would this world be better off without corporations?
-does everyone here, regardless of where they stand, practice what they preach?
posted by 111 at 4:49 PM on June 11, 2003


jmd82: Stop trying to understand liberals. Start trying to understand how you can make this world a better place.

Who ever said I don't understand how I can help to make this world a better place? Just because we have ideological differences doesn't make one of us wrong. You help in your ways, I help in my own way...or, wait, I'm just another conservative who doesn't give a shit about anyone besides myself, right? (I know you didn't say that exactly, but I get the impression thats what people think here). Just because I question things or enjoy playing devil's advocate doesn't mean I don't care about others.

Space Coyote: I brought up the fashion thing because in your post about how people are dressed, it sure seemed you were judging people based on what they had in material good. My apologies if I misinterpreted your post.
posted by jmd82 at 5:05 PM on June 11, 2003


Maybe its a matter of semantics, but does living in a community really require giving something up?

> No. That does in no way make you right, however.

This part bothers me (well, so does much of what 111 and jdm82 wrote, but this particularly so) because it is absolutely true that living in a community requires giving something up.

Two simple examples of our modern life: you cannot simply walk up to another person and kill him or her without giving up your freedom in return and you cannot drive a car without paying towards the upkeep of the roads. (Which is not to say that a sufficiently smart or lucky person isn't able to commit murder without going to jail, but I'm talking about the general case.)

We give up, and we hopefully get in return. I cannot kill you and you cannot kill me, though there are of course people who do not understand this bit but then they generally pay for it.

The problematic question is: where do we draw the line between community and self and just what does it mean when one says a particular individual is taking advantage of another?
posted by billsaysthis at 5:24 PM on June 11, 2003


a corporation is not meant to be philantropic. It interprets the law and does whatever it can to maximize its profits and create new stuff that'll keep it ahead of the competition. Just as people do when they take coupons to the supermarket or look for loopholes to pay less taxes.

You didn't really address any of my points but then, as I expressed them sarcastically I suppose I didn't really expect you to. If it's meant to be a response, your last sentence draws a false comparison. A shopper clipping coupons in no way compares to the revolving door where regulators and the corporations regulate exchange employees like kids swapping bubblegum cards, where legislation is written by lobbyists and rubberstamped by a bought-and-paid-for legislature, and where senior government officials make featherbeds for themselves by spending their tenure working for corporations on the public dime (Michael Powell, perhaps?) then leaving for very cushy "reward" jobs in the industry they formerly were supposed to be watching over.

Whether we would be better off without corporations entirely, I don't know. That would be a big change. But it's an unnecessarily broad question and a false dichotomy that smacks of Straw Man tactics: it isn't a choice between functional oligarchy and no corporations at all. It's a choice between functional oligarchy and democracy.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:28 PM on June 11, 2003


I agree with what you say, bullsaysthis. I've been responding more to giving up materially train of thought, but I see your point.
posted by jmd82 at 5:32 PM on June 11, 2003


oops, billsaysthis, my bad.
posted by jmd82 at 5:33 PM on June 11, 2003


jmd, I have often been confused with your typo so no big whoop.
posted by billsaysthis at 6:07 PM on June 11, 2003


-would this world be better off without corporations?
-does everyone here, regardless of where they stand, practice what they preach?


Yes and yes.

All systems which exist in the natural world be they large or small, individuals or individual-conglomerates - attempt to consume more resource. Those which have attained sufficient size through successful resource consumption will develop the ability to alter their environment - as a natural consequence of their all-consuming goal, they will change their environment to maximize the advantage to entities such as themselves at the expense of all other systems within the environment.

Thus corporations rewrite laws at will which harm or outright destroy the rights of individuals (ie fair use, RIAA)

I do not purchase music from the RIAA, I refuse to work for a company of any kind no matter what it costs me (I do independent contracting work for independent developers), and I only purchase computer parts from companies which demonstrate actual concern for the rights of individuals in the legislation they do attempt to get passed.

This is not to say that all companies are inherently evil - all companies with stock and stockholders, however, are. Because those stockholders demand resource regardless of the damage done to rights, freedom, or any abstract principles in the process, and the final result of that destruction is obviously the enslavement of mankind.

My immediate aim is to leave the United States as quickly as possible for Canada and change my citizenship to match - I believe that we have demonstrated ourselves an oligarchy beyond the point of no return. Canada on the other hand consistently passes laws which provide greater freedoms to their citizenry.
posted by Ryvar at 6:42 PM on June 11, 2003


would this world be better off without corporations?

this world would be better off with strictly regulated, closely scrutinized and independently audited corporations with unwavering limits as to what they may do, say and sell.

does everyone here, regardless of where they stand, practice what they preach?

in it's context, (which is totally out of context) this is nothing more than a cheap mass ad hominem. bite me.
posted by quonsar at 6:46 PM on June 11, 2003


.
posted by dabitch at 6:52 PM on June 11, 2003


also:

Just as people do when they take coupons to the supermarket or look for loopholes to pay less taxes.

this just steams me. people only clip coupons because corpofucks invented them. it's a shell game, just like those discount cards they use to track purchases. why not just sell me the fucking product at a fair price? nooooooooo, clip the coupons you fucking sheep! so we can fleece the people who don't! you are so steeped in the corpofuck world you cannot even construct arguments apart from it. wake up!

and pray, tell me what loopholes are available to a non home owning under $40k earning person without major medical bills? not shit, thats what! which planet you living on, 111?
posted by quonsar at 6:57 PM on June 11, 2003


111, "Would the world be better off without corporations", is a change of subject, and a standard tactic around here. The subject is oligarchy. So if you're suggesting that oligarchy is an inevitable consequence of corporations, then from that (highly questionable) premise I would answer "yes."

This of course is where you (or MidasMulligan, or whoever pulls this routine MeFi gag) goes on to equate my response to communism and proceed to the fish-in-a-barrel debunking of Marx and Lenin, having successfully changed the subject from whether we are meant to be governed by the wealthy to one where you're on much easier ground. Nice try, but we've seen it over and over around here.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:05 PM on June 11, 2003


111 - thanks for responding, but as for your comment "trout, I agree with everything you say except for the fact that your scenario is extreme; an extreme meritocracy can be dangerous, but a collectivist society is much worse" - what I sketched out (broadly, in several comments) was a picture of America moving towards a neo-fascist business/state partnership run by an extremely thin strata of the hyper-rich. Quite the opposite of a meritocracy - a "nepotocracy", perhaps?

Sure, collectivist societies were horrible. But now that the looming specter of a world dominated by communist/collectivist totalitarian regimes has been vanquished, the more venal elements among the world's capitalist rich are licking their chops at the new profits to be wrung due to the fact that the ideological/military counterweight to posed to Capitalism by the Soviet Bloc has disappeared.

Labour has lost it's primary weapon in wage/benefit negotiations which was the threat of socialism and the fear, on the part of the upper classes, of revolution: The European revolutionary spasm of 1848-50 almost certainly lay behind Otto Von Bismark's social reforms which set the emerging European standard for the industrial welfare system. [ "Initially a deeply conservative, aristocratic, and monarchist politician, Bismarck fought the growing social democracy movement in the 1880s by outlawing several organizations and pragmatically instituting mandatory old-age pensions, health- and accident insurances for workers. " (Wikkipedia) ] and the Paris Commune (bloodily supressed) haunted Europe's elite as a continual spectre - thus, Euro-socialism, which was felt to be better than the possibility of outright, bloody revolts on the part of the underclasses.

But now, after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, ( as some of your comments - about the worthy rich - seem to illustrate ), long discredited doctrines of Social Darwinism, Calvinisn and their ilk are recrudescing in a pernicious new form.

In today's business climate, a significant minority of business leaders are simply thieves who employ government connections, bribery, "revolving doors", and so on to make a dishonest killing. These types give a bad name to honest businesspeople. Nonetheless, these shady, thieving business-as-mafia types are leading the charge to beat down standards of living among wage earners. The World will finally fuse into on market system, yes. But will workers have legal rights to move around the globe as freely as does capital? (Adam Smith felt this requirement to be a necessary counterweight to the mobility of capital). And who will set the standards?
posted by troutfishing at 8:19 PM on June 11, 2003


Please substantiate that somehow, as it is the most eccentric interpretation of Friedman I've ever read. If what you call structural ensurance (sic) means government intervention, certainly Friedman does reject it , because it prolongs a situation that's untenable in itself.

Sometimes a state, sometimes a private security force, either way, violent union-busting lies at the heart of neoliberalism's successes -- as does colluding with banks to use debt relief and the suspension thereof as a carrot/stick bucking of natural market principles. This is not even to mention collusion between corporations that alter agricultural markets, in effect forcing export substitution onto entire populations.

Are we to conlclude that corporations are evil? No. That would be childish. But they are inorganic and exist as they do only as a result of laws defining them thusly. Therefore, if we note the ways in which these structures are abused by individuals and groups of individuals, we can reform -- or remove -- those broken aspects of corporate personhood.

Or we could call people "socialists" every time they suggest a nuanced solution to a nuanced problem.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:24 PM on June 11, 2003


111 wrote:
trout, I agree with everything you say except for the fact that your scenario is extreme; an extreme meritocracy can be dangerous, but a collectivist society is much worse (visit Eastern Europe for a crash course).
Collectivist society takes many, many forms. Visit Japan or France for a crash course. I highly doubt anyone is recommending that the United States model itself after the Soviet Union. You are distorting the issue. Or is your ideology distorting your ability to reason?

jmd82:
Who ever said I don't understand how I can help to make this world a better place? Just because we have ideological differences doesn't make one of us wrong. You help in your ways, I help in my own way...or, wait, I'm just another conservative who doesn't give a shit about anyone besides myself, right?
So, as I said, stop trying to understand liberals. Go and make the world a better place. Meanwhile, allow them to do so as well. At some point, you will find yourself working alongside a liberal to make the world a better place. At that time, you will be enlightened. However, you will not understand these words now.

billsaysthis:

You are not giving up something by choosing not to kill strangers in the street. You are gaining something. That is the true meaning of living in a community.

To address your question: There is no line between self and others -- that line is an illusion.
posted by son_of_minya at 8:31 PM on June 11, 2003


So, as I said, stop trying to understand liberals.

And, I ask again, why? I have nothing against liberals and can't think of any time I stopped them from doing whatever. I just happen to think differently than them. I like to learn about others and how they think. Consequently, I like to learn about liberals. I think that can coexist with helping the world...
posted by jmd82 at 8:51 PM on June 11, 2003


s_o_m, you mistake my meaning for it's opposite.
posted by billsaysthis at 8:57 PM on June 11, 2003


As someone put it nicely in MeFi a while back, "hey, we're trying to have a society here!" In order for our society to succeed, we have to learn to accomodate and assist one another.

The greedy actions of the privileged class who have focused their attention solely on increasing their wealth and power with no regard to the harm they are causing others, are destructive to our society.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:24 PM on June 11, 2003


jmd82, billsaysthis:

So we are in basic agreement?

Good. Then I have nothing more to teach you. ^_^

Just to clarify what I meant by not trying to understand liberals. It's like my trying to quit smoking. It was impossible, because I kept trying to quit smoking. I was fixated on it, and obsessed over it. Eventually, you just have to let it go, and everything becomes clear. Of course, I am in danger of picking it up again and losing my clear vision. If you can handle thinking about liberals without losing your clear vision, then you are doing good.
posted by son_of_minya at 10:04 PM on June 11, 2003


That would be childish. But they are inorganic and exist as they do only as a result of laws defining them thusly.

A philosophy professor of mine refuses to recognize thusly as a word, as thus (he argues) is already an adverb, and attempting to "adverbialize" an adverb by adding "-ly" is silly.

However, it is in the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.

/derail
posted by cohappy at 1:41 AM on June 12, 2003


"Bill Moyers tends the flame of Democracy", huh?

Then I'd have add that GW Bush gives the command for takeoff of the B-52's which drop the cluster bombs of oligarchy.
posted by troutfishing at 3:32 PM on June 13, 2003


« Older BlairHornstineFilter:...  |  Jerry Springer is running for ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments