A Pragmatist critiques a Socialist's quiz

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I think it was slightly tongue in cheek when late bloomer referred to herself as a socialist. But I actually enjoy the exercise of comparative political philosophy, and so I'm going to go ahead and comment on her quiz.

Her text in blockquote.

My answer in bold. My explanation in italics.
The government should subsidize struggling museums, theaters, and artists.
Disagree.
I don't think it should finance individual artists, although I would like to see some kind of private patronage system flower again. Institutions are another story. A strong artistic infrastructure is essential to a rich and civilized culture.

I agree with "Disagree" as an answer. We have a private patronage system: it's called money. I'm thoroughly enamored with the work of Vladimir Kush, and own a couple giclees (signed and numbered editions of Millenium Watchman, and of Atlas of Wander). I'd love to buy an original; we almost sold a car once to buy the original of Vita Memorae.

What's the pragmatic view? Well, we can't pay for everyone to create art. Also, the appreciation of art is subjective. Therefore, we should no pay for anyone to create art as a society. I do think we should make art education part of the cirriculum. There are a lot of good jobs out there producing art for ads, games, movies, books, and so on; so even if you aren't the next Picasso, you might contribute to society with whatever talent you have. But giving fully grown adults stipends to produce art? If they want to produce art as adults, let them sell it, or support themselves.

I am troubled by the eroding distinction between entertainment and marketing.
Disagree
It's annoying, but I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it anymore since I've stopped watching TV. And I figure that if people are properly educated in critical thinking (a humongous "if"), they'll figure out they're being pitched.

This quote is just great. Let me repeat the best part: [I]f people are properly educated in critical thinking (a humongous "if"), they'll figure out they're being pitched..

Education in critical thinking should be mandatory.

Protesters cause more good than harm.
Strongly agree.
I fear that if protesters vanished from the streets, democracy would be folded up and put neatly in a drawer, never to be heard from again.

Absolutely. I don't think either the question or the answer is encompassing wanton vandalism and encompassing the French rioting or things like the "Rodney King" riots of LA, which were chaotic lawlessness, not even rising to the level of inchoate protests.

(Yes, I know, I'm still in full agreement, in essence if not in reasoning. It gets more fun later.)

A person cannot be truly spiritual without regularly attending church or temple.
Strongly disagree.
Come on. Spirituality existed long before Notre Dame. Or the pyramids, for that matter. And it can't be contained in a building. My "church" happens to be a place of rocks, trees and water in southern Ontario. Come to think of it, I'd benefit greatly if I attended my church a lot more often.

Broken record, but I completely agree with her again. In fact, I question whether spirituality is even important. I'm not against it, and for many, I think a sense of spirituality leads to a better life. But I think humanism is an acceptable replacement, so long as both lead to working morals.

Something like the theory of Natural Selection explains why some people are homeless.
Strongly disagree.
Even if it were true, does that give us a pass?

I also Strongly Disagree. If natural selection were involved, those people would just mug people for money until they were imprisoned. Either way, they eat and sleep better than they do now, right? I think most homeless people are either exceptionally downtrodden, or have other significant problems (ie, drug problems or mental problems) that led to their location. Integrating them into society is a good goal and something that can be done by motivated people without the interference from the government. If anything, the idea that "the government will help them" guarantees a minimal response when a private one would be better... but the thought that the government will help homeless people may convince people they don't need to put their own time and money into it.

If countries like France are unwilling to cooperate with our military plans, we should treat them as enemies.
Strongly disagree.
Yeah, that works great. Who needs friends? And we're never wrong, are we?

Wait... I still agree with her? I've been called everything from a left-wing nut job to a Bush-loving fascist (yes, I can be hard to pin down), but I'm not sure "socialist"...

In any event, this is idiotic. What does "treat them as enemies" mean? We put them on a No-Trade list? We invade France next? Or is this just about Freedom Fries and pouring wine down the toilet?

I feel guilty when I shop at a large national chain.
Agree.
But I still do it, so I get to feel guilty a lot. So sue me. Shopping's enough of a pain in the ass without spending a day ferreting out what I could grab in an hour at Target. (But, god, I have to boycott them right now because of their backwards pharmacy policy. It hurts. And I know other stores don't even carry Plan B, but we expected better of Target.)

I finally disagree. I don't feel guilty. And I own a small business which carries products which compete with chains. I actually think a large national chain is a bit of a guaranteed evolution in the nature of retail. I am concerned however, because if what I want is niche enough and the world is just national chains, it may make it impossible to acquire the goods I want. For example, it was until recently difficult to acquire organic produce and meat in Round Rock, TX. I had to drive down south into the city (30 minutes away) to grocery shop. I'm not interested in eating growth hormones and genetically modified vegetables that grow their own pesticides internally (wasn't having to wash it off bad enough? Now it's IN the food?) But frankly, these chains are very good at what they do. They bring goods to us remarkably inexpensively. They weren't half bad at it even before all the manufacturing was done in China, and the trade deficit bothers me greatly, but that's another topic entirely.

Social justice should be the foundation of any economic system.
Strongly agree.
Are we human or not?

After agreeing for so long, it's like we just jumped off the looney cliff. What? Social justice as an economic system? What the hell does that even mean? Can I eat social justice? Can social justice get me to the office? Can I play social justice?

The foundation of an economic system is trade. I have goods or services, I want different goods or services. In my case, I can write software, and I want to eat, drive, have a roof, etc. That's what economics is. Until you can eat suffering, or clothe yourself in poverty, it's not part of economics. It may be a side effect, but if your first and foremost goal is ensuring social justice - which seems to imply massive redistribution of wealth - then you may succeed in everyone being economically equal: you'll all be poor.

People shouldn't be allowed to have children they can't provide for.
Disagree.
I'd rather see us educate people and offer more opportunity, which tends to bring down the childbirth rate.

I disagree with bloomer. I agree with the statement. Rather, I half agree. People should actually be allowed to do whatever the hell they want so long as we're affording them the choice to make their own mistakes. The moment I'm responsible for their error (that is, once we as a society must pay to feed, clothe and educate their children they cannot afford, and consequently do most of that for the parent as well), then it becomes my business. And if they want to have kids, I think they should have to pay for them, because, frankly, it's unfair of children to have parents in poverty. Practically speaking, I'm not sure how we enforce this, but I'd happily support Norplants for welfare mothers, for starters. That only stops them from having more children they can't provide for, however. I'm also for mandatory labor for those without jobs. In other words, if society is giving to you, you will give back, period. Don't like the rules? Don't play the game; just pay for your own kids.

That said, I also think education is critical. Simply, we all benefit from education. A more educated population is more productive, which means more overall production, greater GDP, which means all of us actually pay less as a percentage for the same thing. Money invested in education is almost never a waste, especially when it comes in the form of financing with deferred interest, which still puts the onus of paying on the student, but makes it attractive to them for the same reason it is attractive to society: the cost of education remains considerably lower than the benefits.

I would defend my property with lethal force.
Disagree.
Nothing I own means that much. Although I could badly hurt someone trying to make off with my computer.

If someone were robbing me, I'd call the police and I'd happily threaten them with a firearm, say, to stop the theft. If they were armed, I'd be prepared and if they acted hostile or aggressive in a way I thought threatened me or my family, I'd shoot them, and I doubt I'd feel any guilt over it. Of course, I don't actually own a firearm, although acquiring one and the training to use it is on my list of things to do. (I have had basic training with one and fired one a few times, and I'd want to ensure that it was very same from children tampering with it, and I disapprove of firearms in the home unless one *does* have training *and* a very safe place to keep the weapon - and "locked desk drawer" does not nearly qualify. A friend I lived with for a while kept a handgun in an electronic lockbox that required an access code to get into; when I roomed with his, he shared the code with me so I could access it if necessary. I approved of that method.)

In any event, when someone breaks into my home or threatens me or others with public armed robbery, they have given up rights to their own person. This isn't to say I'd want to wantonly strike them down, but the moral value of preserving their life decreases dramatically at that point compared to the value of preserving the lives of others around them, and secondarily stopping their criminal activity present and future.

The world would be better if there were no huge corporations, just small businesses.
Disagree.
The world would be better if there were no corporations allowed to stuff the pockets of our elected officials in return for permission to stack the deck in their favor.

Agreed. Corporations should focus on running their businesses in the context of the legal framework the People provide; the People should worry about the laws.

Professional athletes are paid too much money.
Agree.
While I don't begrudge people making as money as they can (with caveats), I think the eye-popping sports salaries are a symptom of a cultural illness.

I agree and disagree. Professional athletes ARE paid too much, but that simply reflects an unhealthy obsession people have with professional sports. Insofar as this implies we should intervene to limit their salaries, I completely disagree. I also disagree with the public financing of ludicrously expensive sporting facilities.

Tradition is a reliable guide in deciding what's right.
Disagree.
It can be, but there would be no progress if that's all we looked to.

Hey, we're not always wrong, but if you can't defend a tradition with something better than, "But it's always been that way!" then it probably deserves to change. I agree with bloomer.


When I'm talking to someone and I find out they've served in a war, I respect them more.

Agree.

They do get a pass from me. I'm thankful that they can do what I never could, and I do believe in the idea of the military. But they can be jerks like everyone else.

That's probably true for me also. I also respect people with degrees more, despite the fact that some of the brightest people I know are dropouts. I respect people who raised children more. In other words, I respect people more when they go through anything I think of as requiring or building character, and war is one.

If I'm dating someone I like to know where they are and what they're up to at all times.
Disagree.
Gosh, that gets tiring. Although it's nice if they show up more than every three weeks. (Oops, another flashback.)

Er... how is that political? I'm with bloomer, that's nuts.

It bugs me when somebody names their child something like 'Sunshine' or 'Charm'.
Disagree.
It can be annoying, and I worry about all these kids with apostrophes and double capitals and unpronounceable alternate spellings. But, hey, maybe today's D'Iyaen'Thea is tomorrow's Honorable D'Iyaen'Thea Johnson, President of the United States. (Waaaaaay tomorrow, I'm afraid…)

Haha. Again: is this political? I think they're not being nice to their kids, but hey. My wife will tell a story of her days as a candy striper, and the woman who named her daughter 'Vagina' because she'd never heard it before and thought it was a beautiful word. To all the Sunshines, Apples, and Charms out there: be glad your name is not Vagina.

Only literate people should be allowed to vote.
Disagree.
While I hope they're literate, when we start prohibiting people from voting based on anything other than legal status, we're back to democracy in the underwear drawer.

I reluctantly agree with bloomer. I'm so tempted to say people who can't read should not be able to vote, but it's too slippery of a slope. Frankly, I completely disapprove of disenfranchising criminals. Hell, I think we should pass out ballots in prison. You're either a citizen or not; if you are, you should get a vote.

That said, the "get out the vote" campaigns, especially those which target demographics (say, Bible Belt Christians or black people in ghettoes) are rotten. If people can't be bothered to register and go vote, they can't be bothered to educate themselves on the issues, and frankly, we're better off without them voting. Should everyone be allowed to vote? Yes. Should the ignorant and apathetic be pushed into doing so? No.

People raising children have a responsibility to live up to society's standards.
Agree.
Yeah, it'd be nice if they had manners and didn't commit felonies, but some of society's standards suck.

I agree, but this is one of those tough-to-enforce things. It hurts us all when people raise their kids poorly. It reminds me of something I saw one night while I came in to fix a snack and my wife had on that "wife swap" show. One family had responsible, disciplined children. They cleaned up after themselves and were well behaved. The other woman had rambunctious brats, and she actually thought it was "wrong" to tell children "no". She encouraged all sorts of bad behavior and basically passed it off with, "Well, they're kids, and they have plenty of time to act like adults later." Note to mom: they won't figure that out on their own. Your job as a parent is to teach them how to behave like an adult, and encouraging them to engage in public burping contests is not the way to do it.

The separation of church and state has demoralized our society.
Strongly disagree.
How could one of the founding principles of our government be demoralizing? Would you like to live with the Taliban?

The 'Word of God' exists only as human beings interpret it.

Strongly agree.

Sorry to break it to you.

Blind patriotism is a very bad thing.

Strongly agree.

Don't get me started…

No comment, but I'm in agreement here. How many of these have I actually disagreed with? Am I a socialist too??

We need stronger laws protecting the environment.
Strongly agree.
Only someone deprived of contact with nature could think otherwise.

Or we need better enforcement. Or less loopholes. Being environmentally conscious costs money... but so do cancer patients.

I would feel better if there were video cameras on most street corners, to prevent crime.
Disagree.
Let's not go too far.

It really depends on who is watching the watchers. I think I need to read Transparent Society. The thing is, this sort of surveilance is practically here now thanks to the combination of computers, cameras, and the Patriot Act. It might be better to be asking: who has oversight?

It should be legal for two consenting adults to challenge each other to a duel and fight a Death Match.
Strongly disagree.
Come on.

As long as we're not paying for their medical care, cleanup of their blood, they do it in such a way that there can't be collateral damage, and they're not leaving behind uncared-for dependants (that's a long list!) then it should be fine. That's a tough list of things to verify, so it's certainly more pragmatic to give a blanket 'no' to everyone.

Since parents can't be trusted to monitor what their children watch, TV content needs to be more regulated.
Disagree.
What's with the unmonitored TV-watching? I know, I'm not a mother, so I should shut up, but I was a kid once, and even if I resented strictures on what I could do or see, it made me feel safe and watched over. That's not the government's job

I reluctantly agree with bloomer. But frankly, this is a part of a vicious cycle. You leave bad parents alone, they let kids watch tons and tons of crap. Those kids grow up to be losers, and become a burden on society. Then you turn around and say economics should be based on "social justice". So many social ills take root in parenting, it might be impractical to try to combat every effect and not the cause. I think parents themselves should be able to watch what they want, and even allow their children to watch it. But I object to parents who allow their children to watch whatever they want simply because the parents are unwilling to be bothered to regulate their childrens' TV usage.

If a company invents a pill that cures cancer, they should be allowed to charge whatever they want for it.
Disagree.
Capitalism is great. Untrammeled capitalism is not.

I think it's fair to let them charge whatever they want until their patent expires. Don't like the patent system? Consider reforming it in the whole, not changing the rules for one company. I'd rather have an overpriced cure for 20-some years and then a dirt cheap one, than no cure at all.

The fact that many people starve to death is unfortunate but unavoidable.
Strongly disagree.
The only way someone could ever be complacent about starvation is if they assumed it would never happen to them. (Oh dear—or if they lived in a culture where starvation was common.)

This whole question is stupidly vague. Of course we could have a world where everyone got enough to eat. But I'm not going to run around removing warlords who disrupt supply chains from power just so I can help feed the people of their country. There's no excuse for anyone in America starving, that's certainly the case.

But honestly, how can anyone starve? You could throw a rock through the window of a McDonalds and go in for a snack. You either eat, or you get arrested and they feed you in prison. And that's a worst case scenario, and it's entirely unlike going out of your tent in the morning to discover that, yes indeed, there's still nothing but dust and revolutionaries with guns outside, and bullets don't taste good.

It bothers me that many American companies have moved jobs overseas.
Agree.
It bothers me, but I sort of understand. I really wish there would have been space here for "on one hand/on the other hand."

Jobs moving overseas means that people over there get paid less than we'd pay our own to produce stuff we want. We get the same stuff, cheaper, and our people get to move on to something more productive. Since all our manufacturing jobs went overseas to people making pennies, and our employment remains relatively low, we're the winners here.

That said, I think we need to deal harshly with countries trying to benefit from free trade without offering us the same benefits. If a nation wants to trade freely with us, we should have equal access to their markets with our goods. If they can invest in our companies, we should be able to invest in theirs. It's that simple. China selling us a mountain of plastic crap via Wal-Mart while denying our investments and access for our goods to their markets - that's crap, and it should be rectified with extreme prejudice. They already have an advantage of a sort by not having the burdens of environmental regulation and social requirements that we do (like a livable or nearly-livable minimum wage). We don't need to let them deal themselves another ace under the table.

It's wrong when environmental regulation puts people out of work, like when limits on logging make it harder for loggers to log logs.
Disagree.
How many jobs do you think we'll have when we have no environment? But they should be supported in their efforts to find other jobs.

Have to agree (with bloomer, again) here. Even if raping the environment pays well, that doesn't mean we should do it. This can be taken too far, of course. That said, I don't think we have business worrying about whether the Northwest Musk Squirrel loses its environment or not. You want it to have a home, buy some land for it. There's a lot more of a case for being concerned about our ferocious consumption of fossil fuels, however, and their effect on the planet.

Most people are too stupid to know what's best for them.
Agree.
I'm sorry. I'm arrogant.

I'm inclined to agree. Sadly, we have this social trend to taking care of them, so we better educate them.

A person has the right to claim the Holocaust never happened, if that's what he believes.
Strongly agree.
Sure. And everyone else has the right to expose their dumbassery for the world to see.

Who disagrees with this? What, you're making thinking something a crime? Even France hasn't done that. Now, I also think they should be able to say so, and publish it, and shout it from the highest hill. Loud idiots are sitll idiots. Fight stupidity with knowledge, not laws.

Books with potentially deadly knowledge (like instructions for making awesome bombs) should be regulated.
Disagree.
Sadly, I can't draw that line. (And what's with the "awesome"? Geez.) What I hope for is, once again, education and opportunity, to quiet down the impulse to do such damage.

People will find a way to wreak havoc one way or another. You can't really stop this knowledge from being passed around, so why pretend you are?

Being poor and black is an advantage in getting into college.
Disagree.
Affirmative action ain't what it used to be.

Well, if you're black, poor, and have the same grades, scores, and extracirriculars as a rich white kid, then it probably is an advantage. But black and poor don't exactly go hand in hand with good test scores and grades, or diverse extracirriculars. In a vacuum, though - other factors being equal - then I disagree with bloomer and agree with the statement. But if we're talking population at large, being poor and black goes hand in hand with many disadvantages which render any advantage moot, and in that context, bloomer is right.

Eventually, a computer will write the best novel ever written.
Strongly disagree.
If you believe that, I have a brain to sell you.

Who even came up with that question? And how is it political? I'm starting to think this test was a waste of both our time.

I should be able to sell my vote for cash if I feel like it.
Strongly disagree.
Come on, you're not that special.

Yeah, you should be allowed to sell your vote for cash... and I should be allowed to beat you senseless and give the money to someone with a clue afterwards.

America isn't as free as it thinks it is.
Strongly agree.
If we knew what real freedom is, we'd never stand for what's being done to us.

I think bloomer is nuts here. We're still pretty damn free. But there's a lot of stuff that needs to be noticed, most of which relates to panicky reactions to the "terrorist threat".

Employees should have the right to go on strike without the risk of being permanently replaced.
Strongly agree.
The big guys have all the cookies. The workers need some bargaining power against rapacious mistreatment.

I disagree. People should have the right to organize as they see fit, and go on strike as they see fit. If a business can turn around and hire replacements, then they should be free to do so. Allowing employees to strike without ever being able to fire them basically makes the business completely captive to them. It's already very detrimental to many businesses to have striking employees in the first place. But allowing them to strike without negative consequences means they will strike any and every time they feel they can gain an advantage.

I think the American government should subsidize our small farms.
Disagree.
I think the farms need to be saved some other way, which is entirely possible.

I'm with bloomer; but can we stop subsidizing the large farms first, and go from there?

The life of one American is worth the lives of several foreigners.
Strongly disagree.
Please don't let anyone have agreed with this.

Intrinsically, I agree with bloomer and disagree with the statement. But in a lot of circumstances under which this equation actually matters, I'm going to choose to protect the Americans even if a disproportionately larger number of other people will die.

A society is only as successful as its least fortunate members.
Strongly agree.
Duh.

I completely disagree. A society is successful when it serves the principles it was created to serve. If we're talking economics, it is about as successful as its median member. If there is one crazy guy living in a gutter and the rest of us live like kings, we are a not, as a society, a gutterbound failure.

Practical considerations aside, a person who doesn't use many government services should pay less in taxes.
Disagree.
Maybe there should be some leeway, but people who think they shouldn't have to pay taxes for good schools, for instance, don't realize how the society they live and function in depends on good schools.

Obviously. Aside from which, those using things like public schools the least, are probably using other things (say, the military and police forces which protect their wealth) more.

I think everyone has a right to the basic material necessities of life.
Strongly agree.
As I said, are we not human?

I disagree. Your "right" to material necessities won't cause a crop to grow. Antibiotics are not made by necessity, and your "right" to housing won't get us lumber, plaster, steel or labor. Do I think we should try to make such things available to people? Yes. I think we should try to create housing which is affordable even for the least well-off. I think we should feed those who are hungry and cannot pay for food themselves. But frankly, there are efficient ways to do it and those who can give back should be forced to. In other words, if you want a hand from society, you'd better be ready to meet society's expectations for you. I think we could come up with very cost effective housing and food for low income people. Small individual rooms, shared bathroom facilities (with privacy), and a mess hall kitchen with a predetermined healthy menu based on low cost foods (rice, vegetables, occasional lean meat). Cameras everywhere, including bedrooms, for security. (I think there are technological means to allow them to get a few minutes privacy to change and such without exposing them to the danger of those means being used to get a few minutes to, say, rape them). And mandatory work for those who are capable. No non-essentials at all that aren't productive. No TV whatsoever. Educational books, games, and hopefully a tie in to some ongoing job training. In other words, the sort of necessities that say: hey, we want you to live and get back on your feet... and we want you to do it as quick as you can.

Footnote: So when I actually took the test, how did it come out?

I'm a Libertarian.

 You are a

Social Liberal
(75% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(66% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Libertarian

Huh. Guess that's not too big of a surprise.

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The continued search for my true political orientation, with the help of my able opponent Matt Wallace. To keep this as mercifully short as possible, I've excluded the statements that he and I mostly agreed on. Content from my earlier Read More

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