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Ethics, Uncategorized

The Ethics of a Failed Experiment

http://avoidingthevoid.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/communism___full_game_board_by_spiffyofcrud.jpg

In the history of our world we’ve seen many governments, and great men come and go. In the time it’s taken to get from our the days when we were Australopithecus to now we’ve seen Julius Caesar get stabbed, a war that lasted a century, and countless pandemics among other things that’ve drastically the course of human history. Among the things changed is ways of governing, there are monarchies, democracies, theocracies, technocracies, and many others. One of the more recent inventions is a highly contentious method called Communism. While it has already seen its pinnacled of influence and is now on the decline the last remaining bastions of it still stand strong. I won’t pretend to be unbiased because Communism is quite high up there on the list of things I loathe. But, I’ll try my best to give as evenly balanced of an argument as possible.

To get anywhere near to the argument for and against Communism, one must understand first and foremost what it is. Communism is essentially a social contract in which one gives what they can/their fair share and gets in return for their labours an amount equal to each and every other person’s. This is regardless of how much work each person put in. The point is to create a communal society, one where the is no class, and no money. It strives to put everyone on a level playing field so that each person gets the same opportunities as everyone else. This all sounds very bloody good on paper because it eliminates social leeches as everyone works to each of their own abilities, it eliminates poverty, greed, and wealth because everyone gets the same, and it works for the posterity, and betterment of all for all time. This seems to solve some of the biggest problems that dog Socialism, or Capitalism.

However, on paper is perhaps in many people’s opinions about as far as the good things get. While a Marxist society and derivatives of it seem to create an Utopia that’s described by people such as Thomas More, it in fact in real life has severe implementation problems. Detractors to the theory says that in a Communist society there is no incentive nor need to innovate or to achieve more. It doesn’t matter if one does a lot or a little as one will always get the same as everyone else. Aspiring to do more doesn’t make you better off than anyone else; so the question is then, “Why Bother?” It is precisely that type of thinking that renders a Communist state as a non-innovative and inefficient. Everyone in that state will simply just slack off because there’s no reason why they should work hard since they’ll get the same in return either way.

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The opposite of that and what many detractors favour is Capitalism. This system in my opinion is the best system out there but to many it is full of faults as well. Where capitalism excels in is innovation because it is a system where if you work hard and you have good ideas you’ll be rewarded for them. That creates an incentive and fosters greed to strive to be better than everyone else, to achieve that “American Dream.” But, to its detractors it creates many problems as well, ones that are fixed in Communism. Capitalism by all accounts is a very Draconian system. If you slip up or if one of your ancestors really decides to slack off and hits rock bottom; not only will he/her suffer, but their descendants will too for a very long time. This is because your ancestor’s impoverishment has given you an uneven playing field compared to someone else who’s family worked their asses of all the time. It in essence isn’t kind to failure, and while it rewards those who work hard and are successful it creates a widening disparity between those who succeed and those who don’t.

From there we can clearly see that the question becomes which side do you value more? And do you in your own personal set of ethics prescribe more to fairness in society or fairness to individuals?

Communism would say that it isn’t fair to the poor people who’ve ended up this way because of a bad decision that they or their family made. They would say that it isn’t ethical for a small amount of people who’ve worked their asses off to live in relative opulence compared to these unfortunate souls. So, we should make everyone work to the extent of their own abilities and in return everyone gets equal amounts in return. Therefore, everyone is equal, problem solved.

Capitalism would say on the other hand that it isn’t fair for the people who’ve worked and who’s family has worked ridiculously hard for many years and in some cases centuries to get where they are. They would ask, “Is it fair to reward someone who doesn’t work as hard equally as someone who’s never stopped working?” They would also say, “That in Communism because there is no incentive to be better and work harder than everyone else then the entire society as a whole is poorer, rendering not only the rich poorer, but the poor poorer as well.”

 It’s big overarching questions is a question of what world you want? Where do you want to live? Personally for me, I would chose individuality in a blink of an eye but as someone who’s very fortunate to be at the beneficial end of the system (along with many people in the developed western world), so it’ll definitely be a highly biased opinion.

There have of  course been many people who’ve and respected people at that who provide conflicting philosophical opinions about this sort of government. My favourite criticism of this government is by Marx’s hand , the great creator of Communism himself, said, “An end which requires unjustified means is no justifiable end.” Then, in real life there are countless examples of great atrocities created in the name of getting to their end. So even by Marx’s own hand Communism in it’s current incarnation is unjustifiable.

However on the other side, perhaps Marxism and the Communist government built upon his ideology isn’t so different from Western dogma after all. Even though Communism and Religion butt heads, one preferring a focus on humans and society, and the other preferring a focus on mind and spirituality, all have the same seed at the very heart of their beliefs. Karl Marx’s own theory and those of all communist governments at least on the surface is to be the champion of the underdog, those who are poor, unfortunate, and suffering souls. Robin Hood champions the underdog, steals from the rich and gives to the poor. As a inspirational figure to some of us, he champions at the same causes at heart as Communism. Let’s move on to perhaps the most famous and widely read philosophical document of all, the Bible. Amos Chapter 5 Verse 24:

Let judgement run down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

That alone (among many other verses) in the bible also advocate to the same principles that Communism builds its entire structure upon. This is a book that 2 billion people around the world adhere to and the chosen religion of many Capitalists around the world. Secondly, even Capitalism to a degree preaches the same thing, it in essence seeks to create a fluid structure in which one can rise from any level of society can rise to the upper echelons. It’s almost like electing a pope through acclamation, in where any person regardless of religion, status, profession, and even gender can rise to become the Pontifex.

So perhaps it is better for all of us to try and collaborate because at the heart of everything we’re all the same and we should spend less time squabbling over the ideology, and having philosophers argue over what the right “moral law”(Which spawns a whole new argument of proving religion) is. We should probably just work and pool all our resources to accomplish what at the primal part of our beliefs are the same goals.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “The Ethics of a Failed Experiment

  1. I love this line; it’s the best question in your post: “And do you in your own personal set of ethics prescribe more to fairness in society or fairness to individuals?” Do I care more about those undeserving of their fate being cared for, or those (partially) deserving of a beneficial fate being rewarded?

    A couple days ago, I was talking with my father about how to ease socioeconomic disparity. I said that lessing the gap is not about raising the developing world to developed world standards, but rather bringing everyone to the middle group. The “2nd world,” one could say. To that my father, somewhat jokingly, told me I sounded like a communist.

    Ignoring practicality, I would say that the best system would involve giving all people the same starting line, then allowing advancement in different fields based on dedication and investment. However, how would this work with children? How would a successful family be giving their child the same starting point as a less successful pair?

    Without a form of Communism or Socialism, how do we reduce the number of needy people? As I explored in my post, there needs to be a widely accepted view of how much luxury is okay. How much can a single person have, achieved with or without hard work, before they are morally obligated to give back?

    I hope this post gains many more comments to foster a lively discussion.

    Posted by msbethechange | December 12, 2012, 7:07 pm
  2. I think Jen has asked some interesting questions that also strike to the heart of the matter, to which I’ll attempt to add some of my own clarification, as I think some of the assumptions that you build into your final take-away could be made more clearly. Mostly, I think the framing of the question as an either / or between Communism and Capitalism doesn’t leave enough room for the nuance that we have seen in the real-world manifestations of either system to be adequately addressed.

    For instance, while most western democracies enjoy a form of capitalism somewhere between socialism and pure capitalism, that word – “pure” – more or less precludes a country like Canada (or the United States, even) from offering a resolute example of the type of “individuality” you begin by advocating for; indeed, all of the capitalistic countries I can think of provide some rendition of social welfare, public education, (at least) emergency healthcare, mail services, infrastructure and regulatory services, an armed forces, and a host of other “collectivist” goods that we all (or everyone who is able to does) pay into such that those who need them might draw upon them when needed. The idea with each of these public goods is that they seek to level some of the playing field between those who are ‘born on third,’ and those who might need greater support from the get-go.

    That being said, capitalism (even in this watered-down form) does provide the ‘missing element’ that critiques of Soviet or Cuban Communism might point out: incentive to rise above one’s current station through hard work and innovative ideas (I think you would agree that Chinese Communism is another beast altogether). [It is also worth pointing out that I think even Marx would disagree with the means sought by each of these examples in achieving his utopian end.] However, I would disagree that:

    “Communism would say that it isn’t fair to the poor people who’ve ended up this way because of a bad decision that they or their family made. They would say that it isn’t ethical for a small amount of people who’ve worked their asses off to live in relative opulence compared to these unfortunate souls. So, we should make everyone work to the extent of their own abilities and in return everyone gets equal amounts in return.”

    Communism (or, Marx, rather), might say that capitalism does operate in an unethical fashion for some of what you describe here; but his critique of capitalism goes on to say that the very nature of capitalistic profit relies on the exploitation of someone else’s labour (ie, paying someone less to make/harvest/discover something than you will in turn sell it for).

    In other words, it isn’t so much that capitalism *creates* winners and losers, but that it *requires* them.

    Therefore, if we can agree that capitalism provides a necessary incentive for progress to occur, but also inevitably creates people for whom the system will not provide wild rewards, it seems to me that the conversation shifts toward the types of questions that Jen’s comment – and post (https://talonsphilosophy.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/jennifer-id-rather-grab-my-purse/) – asks, and to which you allude in your closing paragraphs, about fairness within such a system.

    How do we address these questions within our current economic and / or political systems?

    “How do we reduce the number of needy people?”

    “How much can a single person have, achieved with or without hard work, before they are morally obligated to give back?”

    And what are the “primal beliefs” that create within us the same goals around these topics?

    Along with Jen, “I also feel strongly about aligning my actions with my thoughts,” and think that these ethical discussions provide us with the conditions – if not the solutions – to seek positive change in the world.

    Great work, and a great conversation to be had as we move toward our social and political philosophy unit.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Mr. J | December 12, 2012, 9:37 pm

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