Worldviews and the world

American Chronicle has an interview with Jason Miller. In answer to the question “What is that (sic) you consider your purpose on Earth to be?” he says:

It’s multi-faceted and complex, but if I distill it to its essence and put it succinctly, my primary purpose on Earth is to strive for two causes: animal liberation and socialism.

Defending socialism, he says:

Socialism hasn’t had the ghost of a chance to take root, let alone flourish. Pitted against the militaristic, economic, and propagandistic might of capitalism, each attempt to tear down and rebuild socioeconomic and political structures along more egalitarian, rational, just and democratic lines has been destined to severe malformation or failure.

Miller’s worldview – responsible for all the experiments in socialism in the last century – might have been understandable at the beginning of the 20th century. Today when even communist regimes like China and Russia have accepted that it is false, it is nearly impossible to understand. Yet, there it is. And Miller is not alone.

I have been publishing Thomas Paine’s Corner since 2004. In 2006 I merged TPC with Cyrano’s Journal Online and became Cyrano´s associate editor, maintaining my site as a semi-autonomous section of CJO. I’ve devoted countless hours and worked strenuously to create and maintain a publishing platform for radical writers, ideas, and organizations. Since Patrice Greanville, our editor-in-chief, and I place a high premium on our independence, we accept no advertising or sponsorship. Hence, we derive zero income from our endeavor. It actually costs us to keep the site operational. At last count, Thomas Paine’s Corner had had almost 2 million visitors in four years. So it’s been worth it. (links dropped)
Aside from that, I lead a vegan lifestyle, petition, protest, shun consumerism, distribute pamphlets, work with homeless shelters, boycott, network with other radicals, make personal financial sacrifices that enable me to make meaningful donations to organizations that haven’t been co-opted by the corporatocracy, like Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd and Michele Pickover’s Animal Right’s Africa, and engage in some direct action. (links dropped)

Why is it important that some people are so hopelessly deluded, especially when they form an extremely small and democratically insignificant minority? First, because ideas matter, especially in a world which has very little respect for them. Those who have strong and consistent ideas – whether right or wrong – along with a strong purpose to advance them will always succeed in doing so, especially when most people believe that principles are simplistic, ideology is outdated and each issue must be decided on a case by case basis. Only those who have consistent principles can provide the standards by which any particular issue is to be judged. Those who have consistent principles set the terms of the debate. The pragmatists do the shouting and think they have won. Ayn Rand wrote

The men who are not interested in philosophy need it most urgently: they are most helplessly in its power.
The men who are not interested in philosophy absorb its principles from the cultural atmosphere around them—from schools, colleges, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television, etc. Who sets the tone of a culture? A small handful of men: the philosophers. Others follow their lead, either by conviction or by default.

Second, as an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism in politics and thus being in as small a minority as Miller is, it is important to realize that history needs to be interpreted to serve as evidence for or against a particular political theory. And in a very complex world, it is possible to interpret it in many different ways. Since laissez-faire capitalism (or anything close to it) has not existed for a good hundred years anywhere in the world, and since pure socialism is impossible to put into existence, merely pointing to history as evidence for the success of capitalism is not enough. Any defence of capitalism must include moral arguments along with economic theories and interpretations of history.

Finally, as a tactical matter, it is incorrect and therefore damaging to label the statist and welfarist policies of most politicians today as socialist. They are not. Miller’s worldview is what socialism means. And fortunately, very few people subscribe to it. Many people share some of the moral ideals of socialism implicitly. But they also believe in personal responsibility, individual freedom and free enterprise (however inconsistent there beliefs may be. Calling them socialist when they explicitly reject socialism (as Miller’s frustration shows) is not the best way to reason with them.

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3 Responses

  1. 1. “Calling them socialist when they explicitly reject socialism . . .”

    Do they reject socialism in principle–or merely reject it in its conclusions, that is, in Miller’s vision (however vague)?

    Miller’s socialism reveres a “more egalitarian, rational, just and democratic” society. (In my experience, “rational” means “systematized, orderly” and “just” means “fair” for individuals such as Miller.) Which of these guiding principles do statists today reject? None so far as I can see.

    They are usually pragmatists but at the same time they show some respect for underlying principles, at least giving them a nod of approval. Pragmatism, like religion, must be compromised to be endured. Tara Smith has made this point in her recent article in the Fall 2008 issue of The Objective Standard.

    2. “. . . is not the best way to reason with them.” This raises the question, “What is the best way to reason with them?” Is it possible to reason with pragmatists at all? By definition, no.

    However, I suggest–in the Nov. 9, 2008 post on Making Progress here that the only way to win is to appeal to the few individuals who are rational–that is, not seriously infected with pragmatism or other form of mysticism. The work of doing so will be very hard and very long, but it can succeed–to some extent and in the right circumstances.

  2. Burgess,
    “Do they reject socialism in principle–or merely reject it in its conclusions, that is, in Miller’s vision (however vague)?”
    and
    “Is it possible to reason with pragmatists at all? By definition, no.”

    In my experience, most people reject socialism merely in its conclusions, not in principle, mainly because they do not think in terms of principles at all. But I dont see people as being pragmatic in the sense of rejecting principles on principle. They reject principles because they don’t think principles work. In fact they have grown up with a lot of evidence that moral principles do not work in practice (altruism being the only morality they have known). The fact that they accept altruism makes them a threat. But accepting altruism inconsistently is not as bad a moral failure as accepting it consistently. Someone who practices altruism but shrinks away from its ultimate consequences can still be reached. Someone who accepts the consequences cannot. I have argued with some success with people who hold statist ideas by default. I don’t think they can be called socialist.

  3. […] Worldviews and the world American Chronicle has an interview with Jason Miller. In answer to the question “What is that (sic) you consider your purpose on Earth to be?” he says: It’s multi-faceted and complex, but if I distill it to its essence and put it succinctly, my primary purpose on Earth is to strive for two causes … […]

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