Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Socialism ... Or Society?

La Grande Famille
René Magritte

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
... John Donne

I am definitely not a socialist -- at least I don't think I am. Canada is not a democracy in the strictest sense of the word, but rather can be aptly described as a Constitutional Monarchy. The highest ranking official in government is not an elected representative, not even a Canadian (residing in or born in), but rather an un-elected British monarch. The United States does have an elected head of state, yet it too, is not a democracy in strictest sense of the word. Rather, the US can best be designated as a Republic. Both countries are democratic in that the will of the people is exercised by elected officials. ... United North America

Since I am neither an economist nor a political scientist, I don't fully understand the difference between socialism, communism and democracy. I hear the words being thrown around all the time, and some of the words have a negative connotation to them. Socialism loosely means "something for everyone in a society". When you really think about it, is that so wrong? We all live in social networks, whether it is online (Twitter, Facebook, Blogger ... ) or the social networks in our real worlds. Our social networks are designed so that we support each other. We are all part of the whole.

John F. Kennedy once famously said, "To those whom much is given, much is expected." That is the whole premise of a socialist society. I think we need to take the sting out of the word socialism and call it something else -- humanism, perhaps, but I think that is already taken, and has an entirely different meaning.

What is wrong with everyone in a society looking out for each other? Doesn't that make people feel more safe, more connected to the whole? Socialized health care is criticized, but health care is one thing that should be socialized -- the emphasis should be on the care. Why would a society be afraid to take care of its weakest members. It doesn't make sense to me. Don't forget -- everyone gets a turn.


ivan said...

Therea are times when I watch the oh-so-politically- correct CBC, that i am convinced that the tax-supported gods who rule us believe the Revolution had already happened. Storm and stress in in the air. Woman is over man.No man should have exceptional talent. Keep your head low. Adore immigrants even if some come to rob and pillage. Watch what you say. Do not be like an American. You, shabby a s you might be, are as important as the Pope. Don't stand out from the crowd. If anybody in Canada has original ideas about the country, shines too brightly, he should be pulled down to the common denominaor.
Deconstruction in literature. Until recently any new work had to be about a young girl growing up in a small community. Better still if aboriginal. This theme is good because we tell you it is good. Gayness is somehow equated with piety. Not enough funds are allocated to HIV and AIDS research.
Canada is like a horse designed by committe, It is a camel, but don't you dare light one! Canada is socialism, but without social support when the chips are down and you try to collect unemployment insurance, a livable old age pension or welfare. The welfare elite is in goverment and the CBC.

Thank God for the French.
It is they who started the country, have kept it going for five hundred years. There is a wisdom to Canada. It survives for centuries, independent of the Cromwells and Marxists.
But now not so independent.
In my paranoia, we seem to want to emulate the Chinese garbage man/woman. Coolies, and, more often than not without a job.
But there is something wise, crabwise about Canada. We say we are l32 years old. But more like 492 if we cound Champlain and even John Cabot.
It is an intelligent northern civilization which the trendies are trying to usurp.
Watch the National on CBC, and you'd think they've almost succeeded.
But forty per cent of the country is still sane. And probably French.
The current theology, says Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, is Marxism.

Dunno. Maybe I should move back to Quebec. God, I love those people. They at least seem to know what theyre doing. Must have, or how can a country viewed by some as a historical abortion--can work so well, even to the present day.
It might even survive the utopians.

"Green, green, it's green they say. On the far side of the hill."


Since I've been discussing this with family and friends, I've chosen to call it a humanitarian effort.

For the will of the people; for the good of the people, for the common good, and for those who are 'common'.

Anything that relates DIRECTLY to the well-being of the citizens of any nation, is also for the well-being of the nation; that includes helping them keep well and free from sickness as well as treating them when they are ill.

A sick and ailing community can do little to contribute to the overall good of that community. A nation is built of people; it prospers if the people prosper and are secure.

So, I agree with you we should not treat the word 'socialism' as if it were a disease, but rather an easiness of what society benefits from.

If we continue to neglect the needs of those suffering, we are inhumane - not anti-social.

I'd say it's all in the semantics, and we know how powerful words can be - as they say, more powerful than the sword.

Then again, our country has chosen to be one of the largest (if not THE LARGEST) 'arms' dealer in the world; we seem to be caught up in war and constantly either being some type of 'watch-dog' of other nations without their invitation, or we're trying to secure our own needs by interferring in nations where their resources, become our resources or at least, our source.

If the USA doesn't realize that its own citizens are its BEST SOURCE, then we will make a huge mistake.

I'd say Canada has presented a wonderful model for the rest of the world to follow; let's hope our nation sees that.

Land of shimp said...

The U.S.'s cultural relationship to the word socialism has a long history, and part of the reason it has a negative connotation has to do with the Cold War, and McCarthy witch hunts of the 50s. The actual meaning has been lost in the (incorrect) connotation.

Admittedly, the technical meaning of something like Communism is vastly different from the actuality, but that's kind of neither here, nor there.

What we deem Socialism (and all we wrong assign to it) is actually simply having a social conscience, in which the worth of other individuals is valued on par with our own worth. It's absolutely not a bad thing, and if it wasn't for the serious consequences (fear being chief among them) the reaction to the world by citizens in the U.S. would be primarily amusing. We have an ironic understanding of socialism.

That said, there's a strong argument to be made that what many in the U.S. actually value above democracy is the structure of a Meritocracy. Unfortunately, that almost always leads to a plutocracy, in which those with wealth have the most power.

In the U.S. we love the word democracy but don't adhere strictly to the meaning of the word -- predominate views of the majority establishing the popular, etc. etc. and that holding sway.

That all sounds like a semantic argument to the nth degree, but unfortunately misunderstanding of the basic meaning of terms has led to a lot of strife in recent months in the U.S.

Lack of social programs in a society that has rising costs for resources (such as health care, see how neatly I fit my favorite drum in?) creates a basic inequity that cannot be overcome, and leads to a ruling class based on wealth determining access to resources such as nutritious food, and education.

Educational scores in poorer areas of the U.S. are lower than those in affluent areas, due in part to the fact that public schools in certain areas are underfunded due lack of wealth in that community. Lack of wealth equals lack of funds.

Even the obesity crisis ends up being about access to resources. Poorer people are unable to afford fresh fruits and vegetables.

This all goes on, and on. The infrastructure of a society has to be maintained in order for there to be a continuation of an existing structure.

Basically, and this is not my theory, but one supported by history and sociologists, without social programs our current structure, no matter how prized, will collapse over time.

In a society that prizes equality, current trends bespeak a level of inequality that will continue to rise and create a class division if not addressed. The panic over the word "socialism" is extremely detrimental to the overall process of fixing the weakening areas of our societal structure. Mainly wealth determining much more than what kind of house you own, or car you drive.

It's really complex material, and it is harmful when a macro problem is given a micro treatment in the manner in which it is thought about. "Socialism...Scary, bad!" as a belief is truly preventing people from understanding, "Hey, you support public education? How about public roads? That's also a form of socialism."

The Bug said...

One of the problems I face is that people I know don't want to have to spend their money having to help some other "slack" person. They grossly oversimplify that - but also don't understand that the cost of US healthcare is so outrageous that you don't have to be slack at all to be without coverage. So often it feels like if we'd just have a heart for other people we could be generous & make life easier for others...

TomCat said...

Part of the problem is that socialism and communism are economic systems, while democracy is a political system. Comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges. Another part is that the terms' common usage often has little or nothing to do with their actual meaning.

Communism is an economic system in which all property is held in common by all people. Communist Russia wasn't communist at all. The closest example I know of is the 1st Century Christian communities.

Socialism is an economic system in which the government owns all the means of production of goods and service and administers them, in theory, for the common good. I can't think of an example of pure socialism.

Democracy is a political system in which all decisions are made by a vote of all the people. Even in ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy, only around 10% of the people had the right to vote.

Economicially both the US and Canada are hybrids of socialism and free markets. Education, police and fire protection are mostly socialized. In Canada, health care is partially socialized, as Medicare is in the US.

Politically, you said... Both countries are democratic in that the will of the people is exercised by elected officials. ... United North America

That may be true in Canada, but here in the US, the people do the electing, but the elected officials mostly do the will of the corporate interests that financed their campaigns.

DUTA said...

I've tasted a slice of every system: communism, socialism, capitalism. All I can say about it is that Power and Corruption are the key forces in each of the above mentioned systems.

As for the debate on Health Care Reform - I don't get it. Reforms, and especially Health Care reform need money, a lot of money. America doesn't have that kind of money, it won't have that kind of money as the old financial and social tricks are not going to work anymore. So it would seem, Tragedy is on it's way.

JeannetteLS said...

Tomcat, I'd say it's like comparing apples and Broccoli, but that's me. Good to read those definitions. Funny, JO that you are writing about socialism today! And thank you for bringing it all up again.

I would say that I have found it an important issue in the US to face that we are NOT a democracy in the one person, one vote sense. We DO elect our state representatives, but we do not truly elect the President. Gore/Bush. As long as there is the electoral college system and the all or nothing rules we won't elect our President democratically.

Where the diversity of backgrounds and the human condition are going to come into play, no pure economic system or political one can really endure. We're human beings. We have to monkey around with ANY system. It's in our genes.

But, Jo, your simple thoughts--elegantly, intelligently simple--about taking care of one another. THOSE are what I get back to. That idea that until we make sure we have and put into plays to make it easier for the poor, the ill, the indigent, to BE healthy, to HAVE private shelter, to GET to a job that can allow the POSSIBILITIES for more... we are going to sink more into a horrible bog here, of selfishness and an insensitive blindness to the truth of the words

"Here but for the Grace of God go I."

Some people are luckier than others, but many tend to think that, if life is easier for them, that LUCK had nothing to do with it. Social programs allow for the possibility that luck comes into play for people. It mitigates the power of bad luck and hardship to permanently damage people. That seems good for the individual AND good for society. Roads. Schools. Defense. healthcare. Why SHOULDN'T those be levelers of the playing field for a citizenry.

Why can't the US look at Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, France, Denmark, Autstralia--study what works in those places and what doesn't. TAKE what could work here and create something that is OURS?

I don't get it. I never will. I grow weary of easy villains and the downright venomous language in the states from BOTH extremes. People are dying and losing their homes because of our LACK of any healthcare SYSTEM at ALL.

We are a representative democracy; a democratic republic. We alraedy have a mixture of capitalism AND socialism. It's good to mix them. Healthy.

And the meritocracy idea is dangerous--it isn't accurate to call us that, though people like to THINK we are, as someone mentioned. That is my point about luck. When life is hard, we've had bad luck and someone ELSE had all the breaks. When life is great, well we EARNED it. So someone else could have done better and is a slacker or just not quite as good as I am...

Sorry. I'm rambling. THERE you go again, Jo, making me think. What a great blog you have! You foreigners do a good job in here. :)

Carl said...

That's it I am a Humanist... Where can I sign up. I think we should all like out for the other guy just a little bit and get down from the towering soap-boxes and bully pulpits.
Re-branding socialism.... Jo you are a Genius!


Jennifer D said...

Jo sometimes I feel like we are of like minds when I read your blog and other times you give me thoughts I never had. The comments your followers leave are just as intriguing. I have so much to learn. Thank you.

I often wonder why so many people I know who are currently getting Medicare are afraid of a Socialist health care system.

Jennifer D said...

Duta, I think you are absolutly right about Power and Corruption being the key forces in each of the above mentioned systems.

Health care shouldn't be in the profit business.

Donnetta Lee said...

Interesting that you mention the Kennedy quote. I have had it on my mind for the entire last week. Sometimes, you and I really get on the same wavelink. Well, I am not a political person but I do believe in helping one another. If I could rule the world...D

Maureen said...

As an American who's almost 60, I can't understand what's happened to my country. The only thing I can figure out is we've all got Post Traumatic Stress from 9/11, and as a New Yorker who witnessed that event first hand, it is even more alarming since here in the city, being part of that day brought us together. I am baffled and embarrassed by what's going on now.

Susan said...

I just watched President Obama's speech and am again grateful that we have a Nerd In Chief (I mean that with the utmost respect). He's smart, he's cerebral and he refuses to play in the mud with the other kids.
He unveiled a health care reform plan that makes sense and that might just win approval from a deeply partisan Congress.
He offered Republicans action on malpractice reform but he chided them for putting politics before the people's good.
And he tried to remind Congress why it was elected.
When he said, "We are not here to fear the future, we are here to shape it," I think he hit a nerve with every representative who is mostly concerned with the next election.
He spelled out what was true and what wasn't, he clarified where the money is going to come from to pay it and he branded lies for what they are.
I am not a rabid Obama fan; he's disappointed me greatly so far with his reluctance to roll back some of the last administration's most egregious actions.
But tonight I was proud of him.
And one local Congressman told me we should perhaps not call it "socialized medicine"...maybe the better term is "sociable medicine."
But humanism works for me.

Jo said...

Ivan, you know, I have to agree with you. Political correctness in Canada has gotten out of hand, and we are losing our identities. Sometimes in our haste to become "diverse" we are losing ourselves. We have become politically incorrect in our own country. But it is our fault. We have allowed it and encouraged it. What is our identity? We have given it away.

Diane, "If we continue to neglect the needs of those suffering, we are inhumane - not anti-social." Yes! And it is true that a chain really is only as strong as its weakest link. So it just makes sense to make the whole chain strong.

Alane, excellent point! I watched Michael Moore's "Sicko", and he pointed out that there is already a socialized police force, fire departments, school, postal service, why not health care? Why is there such a division between the haves and the have-nots? It really is a form of control. The "haves" want to keep the "have-nots" under their control. And of course, the "haves" in the U.S. are the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. I'm sure you have seen "Sicko". It's quite an eye-opener.

The Bug, the insurance companies hire doctors solely for the purpose of rejecting legitimate claims. The more claims a doctor rejects, the bonuses he or she gets from the insurance company. I wonder how many people are aware of that?

Tom, I think the problem in America may be that there is such a huge population, and a finite amount of wealth. 20% of the people have 85% of the wealth, and 80% have 15% of the wealth. It's bass-ackwards. :-)

DUTA, I believe you're right, unless they can get the insurance companies to fund some of it. But that may be difficult.

Jeanette, "People are dying and losing their homes because of our LACK of any healthcare SYSTEM at ALL." That is the part that I don't understand. How can that be happening in such an otherwise progressive country? And it's not the poor and indigent that are losing their homes and dying, it is the middle class... the hard-working people! (P.S. I love that I'm a foreigner *heh*)

Carl, well, you know, if we can call it by another name, perhaps it won't have the same negative connotations or stigma. It's worth a try. :-)

Jennifer, I agree. Health care and profit are anathema to each other. That's why it doesn't work!

Donnetta, that's what the world needs -- to be ruled by people who are not political...! :-) And of course we are on the same wavelength. We're Quarks. *heh*

Maureen, my goodness, I cannot even imagine what it must have been like in New York on 9/11. The anniversary of that is coming up soon! And yes, I think the world has changed drastically since then.

Susan, I am not a huge Obama fan either, but I was telling my friend Russell, who is American, that if Obama can pull this off, I will have renewed respect for him. I watched his speech too, and I was impressed that he said he was not going to back down.

Anonymous said...

Wow what great discussion, personally I have no problem with saying I am a democratic socialist, a bit of a leftie. I see a just society as one that provides assistance to those that need it when they need it. For me equity in education is a huge issue. Under our previous Australian government, led by John Howard, our public education system was criminally underfunded to the point that any parent who could, was struggling to keep their kids in a private school. Personally I want to see all kids given the same oportunity. To me a quality public education system and a quality public health system are a sign of a compassionate and responsible society. No one should be left behind, and socialised health and education tries to ensure that, that is the case.

Charles Gramlich said...

Socialism typically only works if people are better than they really are. Capitalism works best for people who are worse than the average. Some middle ground needs to be selected.

Jo said...

BookPusher, "To me a quality public education system and a quality public health system are a sign of a compassionate and responsible society." Oh, yes, I completely agree. How is that so difficult for everyone else to understand!?

Charles, that middle ground may just possibly be what we have here in Canada. :-)

ivan said...


Your last two lines above are profound! The truth is often couched in humour.

TomCat said...

Thanks Jeanette. I think the reason we can't do the things you mentioned is that such ventures for the onmmon good limit the profit of those who deliver inferior services privately. Sadly, we still have the best Senate money can buy... and does.

Josie, it's worse than that. It's more like 5% with 90% of the wealth.

Carol E. said...

Oh how I wish we could bottle your wisdom and serve it to all our congresspeople so they could hurry up and do the right thing in our health care debacle. I'm so tired of all the nonsense and the ridiculous system we are stuck with.

Paula Slade said...

I cringe when I hear the political right use the words "socialism" and "liberal" as if they were afflictions. I just don't understand it.


I'm glad TomCat (I have a son, Tom and I call him Tomcat quite often) pointed out the ECONOMIC SYSTEMS as I so often try to do with my own famiy and friends, but they don't seem to 'get it'.

Tomcat has defined it perfectly; he must have majored in economics like I did.

The wisdom of those who commented is apparent; I'm wondering why we don't have that same wisdom leading our nation.

Sad thing is the insurance industry is a 'for profit' industry; the doctors work 'for profit', hospitals also 'for profit'. Investors want to see returns on their investments = health-care is a profit-oriented 'industry', and it SHOULD NOT BE SO.

However, since it's been like this for so long, I'm wondering what would happen if we tried to implement a NOT FOR PROFIT HEALTH-CARE PROGRAM, and found out that the doctors; the pharmaceutical companies, and insurance carriers would drop us all like hot, ailing potatoes.........

To me, it's something that's so plainly resolved; should have been resolved 40 years ago, and safe-guards put in place, to never have allowed health-care services to spin out of control like this.

Where were our leaders and watch-dogs on this one???

I'll never know the answer, but I do know our current president is trying. I do know if we continue on the path we are now, people will be screaming even louder in the coming years, about the costs of caring for themselves; family, and friends.

We failed to teach good nutritional values; focus on exercise, and programs that would render more people strong and healthy.

We allowed a junk food market to grow and thrive. We allowed bad habits for health, to run rampant, and now we're going to have to rein it all in, and become responsible for our own health, and hope that whatever means we have to get medical assistance, will sooner or later, become a service that is monitored and controlled with an eye towards sound economy; elimination of waste and fraud as well as abuse.

I think all of these comments are so valuable; it's good to see such wisdom.

mmae said...

Many thanks for shedding light on Obama's national health care proposal!
Incidentally, there is an even more notable, respectable Source for that JFK quote, "...where much is given, much is expected". It originated from the Savior of mankind, in Luke 12:48. -same chapter that gives us, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (vs. 34).