Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Instinctive Appeal of Socialism

Socialism is appealing. Like puppies and babies and those of the sex other than our own, socialism resonates with deep instinctive emotions and a visceral recognition of the way things “ought to be”. The way, in fact, things were for millions of years of hominid evolution and for 90% of our species existence, the way of human social and economic organization when we struggled with grinding poverty unimaginable in European, African, Asian, and American civilizations for the last three or four thousand years.

Home Was Socialist

Small group socialism was the way of life for all apes, including ourselves, until human populations became large enough to move beyond the micro-cosmos and evolve traditions and morals that enabled widespread human interaction through trade, interaction that enabled the creation of wealth to move us out of the poverty that characterized our existence up to that point.

Socialism as we know it is the imagined result of implementing the rules of the micro-cosmos throughout the broader society. With its many manifestations - Bolshevism, Marxism, Fascism, Nazism, Leninism, Maoism, etc. – Socialism evidently emerged as a social philosophy when European intellectuals became aware of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies of the Caribbean, recognizing in those societies the object of their instinctive longings.

Philosophers and Preachers

Philosophers, at least since Plato and Aristotle, had objected to the evolved morality of the extended order as contrary to the essence of humanity. Plato wrote that individuals exist for the good of the state, not the other way around. Plato didn’t like what happened when people were at liberty.

Christ emphasized the micro-morality and the need for people to treat those around them as if they were members of the same troop. If one ignores the religious aspect of His teachings, Jesus preached the importance of the micro-morality to people prone to ignore it, making life miserable even amid prosperity.

Many Christian preachers and saints despised the macro-order and its morality. Much of Christianity still views the morals of the extended order as evil, even as the macro-morals contribute to the reduction of human misery.

Discovery of the hunter-gatherer troops in the New World offered hope that the age-old longing might be realized.

Rousseau believed that mankind took a wrong turn, sacrificing the instinctive emotions and morality of the isolated troop, the micro-cosmos, for the supposed benefits of civilization. Rousseau wrote of the noble savage, natural and untainted by civilization (also untainted by sufficient food, security, and the prospect of a long life) as the human ideal. The French revolution sought to make France into one big, happy troop of people acting with the harmony of those desperately clinging to existence but without the desperate clinging.

All the world knows how that turned out.

Condorcet, Godwin, and others caught the bug. Human nature being what it is, these intellectuals deluded themselves that their instinctive longings were the result of rational analysis of how to improve the lot of humanity. They designed Utopian castles in their heads to justify the instinctive emotions in their guts.

We all make decisions based on emotions, then use our reason to justify those decisions, typically deluding ourselves that we made the decision rationally. Think of how difficult it is to convince someone he has made a bad decision by using rational arguments.

Pro-socialist arguments inevitably are appeals to emotion, even if clothed in elaborate rationality, because we are instinctively drawn to socialism. We long for the certainty and simplicity of the small troop, our instinctive home.

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