I Have to Change Course
So we and our elaborately evolving computers may meet each other halfway. Someday a human being, named perhaps Fred White, may shoot a robot named Pete Something-or-other, which has come out of a General Electric factory, and to his surprise see it weep and bleed. And the dying robot may shoot back and, to its surprise, see a wisp of gray smoke arise from the electric pump that it supposed was Mr. White's beating heart. It would be rather a great moment of truth for both of them.
Phillip K. Dick
I'VE BEEN LOOKING OVER the comments you made to the first post in this series, and they really leave me with more questions than answers.
My intent, in asking for people's gut responses about socialism, was to try to construct a sort of man-in-the-street definition of the term, in order to start a conversation about where we get our ideas about things like socialism, and how and why those ideas differ, if they do, from more formal definitions.
Let me be clear—you did exactly what I asked you to do, and I'm grateful.
But I'm also surprised.
I must admit that your responses don't exactly fit my plan:
They're all over the map—from "bureaucracy" to "freedom", from "lack of innovation" to "honesty", from "unions" and "poverty" to "Lenin" and "Luxembourg".
They tend to be biased—that's not a criticism, by the way: just an observation. There's very little space between how you "define" socialism, and whether you "like" socialism.
What I mean by this is that if I were to take out all the judgments, like "it won't work" for just one example, and simply look at the definitional aspects in each case, it would be easy to tell, just from the definitions alone, who likes the idea of socialism and who doesn't.
Again, there's nothing wrong with that—it simply surprised me, and didn't fit in with my original plan.
Which means we're on to something: though I'm not sure quite what, yet.
So, (at least from this tiny sample) it seems people have wildly varying ideas of what socialism is, and their definition of socialism is heavily informed by whether they like the idea or not (or vice versa?)
Which means, if you think about it, that the people who don't like socialism dislike something different than the people who do like socialism like.
In other words, it's not really possible to say they disagree.
It's as though I thought a hamster was something like a wild bull elephant, and you thought a hamster was something like a goldfish.
If I then argued that a hamster would not make a good pet, and you argued that it was almost the perfect pet, we wouldn't really be disagreeing at all—we'd simply be talking about different things.
This is getting interesting, so I'm going to try to follow it up with some more questions.
Bear with me on this part: it's the first time I've tried to set up a poll on the site, so I may need to tinker a bit before I get the kinks out.
But the idea is that I'll present some questions designed to probe more deeply into this definitional gap, and then see where that leads us.
Please answer the poll questions as they appear, and leave any other comments you think might help.
You can start by taking three seconds to click here, and complete the sentence: "The greatest amount of government involvement in society I would be comfortable with is..."
With your help, we may make sense of this whole thing yet.
At least, that's what I think today.