Friday, June 08, 2018

No such thing

Bernie's Graveyard by Ben Garrison

(Image: Bernie's Graveyard by Ben Garrison)

There's no such thing as Marxism or socialism. These are terms of broad tribal affiliation; they do not name a singular coherent, identifiable ideology or political or ethical philosophy. There are some broad commonalities between individuals and organizations who call themselves Marxist or socialist, but there is absolutely nothing essential one can say about these terms.

There's nothing wrong with tribal affiliation, or markers of tribal affiliation; it's just that tribal affiliation is something very different from ideology and political philosophy.

A common rhetorical move is to argue* that those people over there want a Bad Thing, so if we give them anything, they'll have enough power to get the Bad Thing. This move is commonly enough targeted at those people over there who call themselves feminists that we can use it as a stylized fact. Those feminists want to kill all the men and reproduce by self-fertilization, so we can't give them anything they want, like legal equality or reproductive control, or they will eventually get enough power to kill all the men. (The related move is that those people over there want a Bad Thing, so they are Bad People, and we are entitled to ignore, oppress, or simply eliminate them.)

*I'm using the "some people say" move as illustration, not argument.

Obviously, killing all the men seems like a Bad Thing, and there are probably people who call themselves "feminist" who really do want to kill all the men, but that doesn't mean that killing all the men is essential to feminism.

The above is an obviously extreme example, so what about more common arguments? I've heard arguments that a lot of feminists, perhaps a majority, are insufficiently concerned with matters of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity*. Perhaps these arguments are correct, perhaps a majority of feminists are insufficiently concerned with racism, but so what? That would be something that feminists have to correct, not an indictment of feminism itself.

*Look up "Transphobic Exclusive Radical Feminists" or "TERFs"

Just like Marxism and socialism, there really isn't any such thing as feminism: by itself, it's not a coherent ideology; it's a tribal affiliation. I call myself a feminist not because I want to kill all the men or because I don't care about racism; I call myself a feminist because I want to affiliate myself with the tribe that (usually) believes the radical idea that women are people. There are some people who might reject my affiliation for one reason or another. Fair enough: if some feminists define feminism in a way I cannot be (or would not want to be) affiliated with them, then I'm not affiliated with those feminists. But I'm still affiliated with those that accept me. If the first wants to persuade the second to reject me, then they can argue the point without me.

I call myself a socialist, a communist, a Marxist* to assert a tribal affiliation, not to assert any specific ideology. A common response when I declare myself a socialist is to hear that socialism is bad because Stalin and Mao killed millions of people. Leaving aside the truth or context of this claim, even if it were true, so what? If killing millions of people is a Bad Thing, let's take that killing out of socialism. And, in fact, almost all people who call themselves socialists already have taken the killings of millions out of socialism: they argue that Stalin (and to some extent Mao) were at best bad socialists and at worst no more socialist than Hitler was.

*I actually prefer to not call myself a "Marxist" for the same reason that biologists don't like calling themselves "Darwinists" and rocket scientists don't like calling themselves "Newtonists".

I don't mind guys like Ben Garrison above. I think political propaganda in principle a Good Thing. Garrison loves him some Donald, so of course he's going to portray the real opposition as badly as possible. (Here are Khalil Bendib and David Horsey getting their licks in on the other side.) Politics is and will always be just as much about image and emotion as it is about ideas and substance. However, ideas and substance matter — at least to me — so rather than indulge in lazy caricatures or meaningless over-generalization, I want to talk about the actual ideas that socialists have, especially the ideas that this particular socialist has.


  1. I couldn't disagree with you more. I see political tribalism as an extremely negative development. The center is collapsing in this country, and civil discourse between two increasingly divided sides is becoming harder and harder.

    Think about it, do you seriously want to live in a divided society?

  2. I'm using "tribe" in the weak sense of "affinity group", and I'm calling socialism an affinity group rather than a singular well-defined ideology or political philosophy.

    We always live in a divided society; that's why we have elections.

    Clearly, I have not communicated my position effectively. Can you be more specific about how you've understood what I've written above?

    1. I disagree that elections are a feature of a divided society. In fact, I think it's the complete opposite. After every American election I can remember in my life has ended, prestigious people on both sides of the aisle have said things like "Well, we can wake up the next morning and we're all Americans." "Respect the office even if you don't respect the person." The winner and loser shake hands. Etc. Despite heated words and feelings during election season, when it is all over, there's always a very important component of "agreeing to disagree", and then moving on.

      All of that still exists at this point. There is massive concern right, however, that all of that is being steadily eroded, bit by bit. There is real evidence borne out in polls conducted by reputable firms such as Pew and Gallup that indicate an increasingly divided society. All of this has been accompanied by an uptick in political violence such as the attempted mass murder at last year’s Congressional Baseball Game. More and more, people are talking about the possibility even of a second civil war.

      There is a certain amount of “social glue” required to support a functional democracy. In countries lacking this, elections become worthless as their results are determined largely by election-time violence.

    2. *massive concern right NOW, however, that...

  3. I think "divided" is not the right word here: it's too broad. But I think I get what you mean.

    But what does the sense of "divided" you mean have to do with my post?

  4. Also, I don't think "togetherness" (in contrast to your sense of "dividedness" above) is not a virtue per se. We ought to be "divided" when real divisions exist, and "together" when our differences do not create real division.

    (I will repeat that I don't intend "tribalism" in the OP in the strong sense of dividedness you describe.)

    See the comments to Marie Snyder's post on tolerance for a similar discussion.

    1. I don't like Marie Snyder's post at all. It references a supposed post on social media without linking, so the person being referenced cannot speak to their own side of the story nor can the original content be seen.

      Also, it starts out discussing Donald Trump hats, then launches into a comic strip about Hitler and the Nazis. I did not vote for Trump and tried to persuade others away from supporting him, but I think comparisons of Trump to Hitler and Nazis are very facile and inappropriate.

  5. I don't like Marie Snyder's post at all.

    Talk to her about that. I was directing you to my comments, because the philosophical positions seem similar.


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