Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Societies And Populations

In this post, I will reflect on three points arising from SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998). Since these are also points addressed by Poul Anderson and indeed by any serious sf writer, they are relevant here.

(i) "'This telling everyone where they have to work and such. It's too much like communism for my liking.'" (p. 171)

Here we need only note, first, that the telling everyone where to work was temporarily necessary for survival and, secondly, that words like "communism" have a history of different applications and changed meanings. For how Wells used the term in The Time Machine, see here.

(ii) "'...the number of pregnancies is up...'
"'More mouths,' Cofflin grumbled.
"'More hands, eventually,' the doctor replied." (p. 199)

Precisely. Every extra mouth to feed is an extra pair of hands to produce food or something else to exchange for food. If there are three people in the car and only two lunch bags in the boot (trunk), then we say that there are too few lunch bags, not that there are too many people!

(iii) "Cofflin...was beginning to see why socialism was impractical, something he'd simply taken on faith before; there just wasn't a mind alive that could soak up all the information needed to make all the economic decisions, even for this miniature city-state." (p. 277)

Changed meanings again. The socialists I know certainly do not think that any one person should plan the economy. A democracy based in every workplace and community is envisaged. Impractical? Bound to degenerate into a dictatorship? These questions are controversial but at least one-person control is not what is aimed at. And dictators have called themselves "socialist" as they have called themselves "Christian" and every other label.

7 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I disagree with some of the points you made here. First, let's define our terms: what is socialism? I define socialism as the political system in which the state owns and controls the vast majority of the means of the production and distribution of goods and services.

    I further contend that Jared Cofflin is right, for socialism to "work," the state would need to be able to make accurate and informed decisions on the vast multitude of decisions needed to be made before an economy can work. I additionally contend that inevitably means a giant bureaucracy and a secret police for enforcing the decisions of the state.

    And absolutely NO state actually trying to be socialist has ever done without an oppressive bureaucracy and secret police coercion. This grim pattern is being repeated RIGHT NOW in Venezuela, the latest nation to attempt practicing socialism. With all the usual results in rampant poverty, corruption, repression, waste, hunger, etc. In fact, the increasingly desperate Venezuelan government has reintroduced SLAVERY, along the lines of the old Soviet and Maoist collective farms in an effort to get more food grown.

    The ONLY places where socialism can be said to have ever worked was in MONASTERIES. And that only because small groups of people agreed to voluntarily live together to attain certain ends by pooling their resources. And monasteries have no intention of forcing the rest of the world to be like them!

    Sean

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    1. Sean,
      We envisage a qualitatively different kind of state built from the ground up by a self-mobilizing population. I agree that familiar state structures are instruments of coercion.
      Paul.

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    2. Kaor, Paul!

      I'm sorry, but I don't think the first sentence even makes sense. All states, ultimately, began from the "ground up." That is, from families, clans, tribes, etc. All states, no matter what forms they take, have to use coercion, sometimes legitimately so. And I see no reason for this to every be different in human affairs. So, exactly what would make this "qualitatively different kind of state" DIFFERENT from any other state?

      Sean

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  2. Sean,
    All states use coercion. That is correct. Familiar state structures are an instrument of coercion by a minority against a majority. States have not always existed, need not IMO always exist and can change their nature while they exist. The earliest state, I think, was a body of armed men guarding granaries and the priests who administered them. As soon as a small surplus of wealth had been produced, a state became necessary to protect that surplus. A modern state has many social roles apart from protecting wealth but it still has that role and uses police, courts and prisons for this purpose. I think that the majority whose mental and manual labor produces the wealth can take democratic control of its production. A new form of state challenging and then replacing the old state structures would be an instrument of coercion but exercised for the first time in history by the majority against a formerly ruling minority. It will then be possible to divert the abundant wealth made possible by technology away from its present wasteful and destructive uses in wars and preparations for war. This is a reasoned position although at present a minority one. My only purpose in referring to it, when appropriate, is to try to clarify what the position is rather than to convince anyone of it here and now by argument. Great events are happening in the world and these issues will be decided one way or the other over a period of time - hopefully not by a continuation of the present drive towards wars and more wars.
    Paul.

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    1. Kaor, Paul!

      I'm sorry, but I still disagree! For one thing, if a state is accepted as legitimate by most of its people, then that people already agrees that sometimes coercion is necessary. For instance, against plain old criminals.

      Nor do think, absent the Second Coming, that states will ever disappear. For one thing, ALL of mankind is prone to, or possibly prone to corruption and violence against others. Preserving internal order is one of the most essential functions of any state.

      And I don't believe one bit in you saying "...the majority whose mental and manual labor produces the wealth can take democratic control of its production." It still boils down to the STATE claiming the right to control the means of producing goods and their distribution. I see no reason it would not end as miserably as Venezuelan socialism is doing.

      I also argue the system you favor makes no allowance for how DIFFERENT in abilities, talents, virtues, or even vices human beings are from each other. Because the system you advocate does not properly allow for the different VALUES placed on good and services by every human being (which means I agree with the Austrian school of economics, not the Marxist). I say the economic system which comes closest to what you desire is only the free enterprise economy, with reasonable restraints imposed by tort law, and the laws penalizing fraud, theft, embezzlement, etc. We KNOW free enterprise works while EVERY socialist system has failed.

      Great events are indeed happening in our times. But I see no reason to expect them to turn out well instead of badly.

      Sean

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    2. Sean,
      But of course you still disagree! I value your disagreement. I express a controversial minority opinion and, in this forum at least, seek only clarification, not (impossible) agreement.
      The view expressed here will remain a minority one unless and until a major socioeconomic crisis drives large numbers of people to seek an alternative. But such crises are frequent because of the competition, conflict and anarchy of production of free enterprise. And other failed solutions are always on offer: making the poor poorer; racist scapegoating; more military attacks that will generate more refugees and terrorist responses. The world is in a bad way but I think there is also hope.
      Paul.

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    3. Kaor, Paul!

      Thanks for your patience with my conservative skepticism and distrust of human nature!

      But, it's those very things you decry about free enterprise which are among its strengths! Competition, conflict (properly understood), and "anarchy" shakes things up to keep any free enterprise economy responsive to the wishes and demands of the people. I think it was Joseph Schumpeter (is that correct?) who called this the "creative destructiveness" of free enterprise. Successful firms and businesses succeed by successfully responding to the wishes of their customers. Failed ones being the firms who do not and thus go out of business. With their resources being picked up by the successful.

      And I think wars will always be happening or likely to be happening because some will either fail to find peaceful means of settling their quarrels or because others value or believe in what they want so highly they use force. So, I don't agree economics alone can account for the resurgence in jihadist fanaticism within Islam. Which means I believe we should take seriously what jihadists say when they quote the Koran, Sharia, or the Hadiths to justify their atrocities.

      Sean

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