Thursday, November 12, 2009

The cure for socialism

I was asked a curious question the other evening, about how it is possible for someone to be a hard-core Stalinist socialist one day, and then a hard-core Austrian anarcho-capitalist the next.

Well, it's very rarely an overnight thing. However, there are cases where such people have been instantly transformed simply by reading Human Action, understanding the reasoning behind the Socialism Cannot Calculate argument, and then instantly flipping straight across to full anarcho-capitalism. But this didn't happen for me (alas).

Instead, it was a decade-long road of mistakes, false trails, cul-de-sacs, and finally waking up one day and realising that government is not only unnecessary, it is positively a cancer which should be eradicated.

There's two other things to understand, too. First of all, very few people change their political stripes once they have reached the end of puberty, because of chemicals released by the body during this period which 'freeze' certain parts of the brain. For instance, if you learn a foreign tongue before the age of 12, it is likely you will speak it like a native and have no accent. If you learn a foreign tongue after the age of 18, it is highly likely you will always keep an accent.

But we're not after most people. A twenty-year-old who is a committed socialist is almost certainly a lost cause, and not worth the candle. They may come across of their own accord, but that's entirely down to them. I'm certainly not going to lift a finger to help these cretins, as the energy they soak up is just too high. If they're intelligent enough, they'll eventually work it out for themselves.

What we are after, however, are those uncommitted people who just want to see a better world. We have to rescue them before they are sucked into the socialist maw by constantly deriding and laughing at the stupidities of socialism, and pointing out a better way.

A very very few people can be persuaded to change their spots, but so very few it is not worth spending much time on the matter. (Though those that do change, say, after the age of 25, are often our greatest fighters, in the manner of anti-smoking zealots who used to be heavy smokers.)

The second thing is this, you have to realise that those who do change from one extreme to another, are most likely possessors of highly volatile minds. This is a polite way of admitting that I could in some ways be judged as being 'slightly short of a few bob in loose change', as could many of my fellow 'changelings'.

But it's certainly a factor to be considered.

Obviously, we 'changelings' consider ourselves highly intelligent, creative, passionate, innovative, soulful, and magnificent. However others just call us lunatics. But we can live it, so long as we realise it's a possibility.

(Though as Professor Thomas Szasz would say, 'mental health' may simply be an invention of the state to describe behaviours not wanted by the state.)

However, given that, where does one begin to cure one's self from socialism?

I think the root of this must be George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Although Orwell himself remained a socialist until his dying day in a curious case of cognitive dissonance, this dystopic vision of the future rings so true as to the final nature of a socialist world, that it drives a fantastic nail into the heart of socialist ideals.

I think the next nail must be Hayek's Road to Serfdom, which describes the process via which 'well-meaning' government always comes to mean men with guns shooting people in the head for daring to disobey.

Next up, is Alexander Dolgun's story, An American in the Gulag, which caused the first major crack in my own Stalinist edifice. Much more compelling than anything Solzhenitsyn ever wrote, Dolgun is unusual in being one of the very few men to come through the dreaded Sukhanovka KGB prison.

Once this book shook my Stalinism, the rot was in, and although it was to be a long road to Austria, the journey had finally begun.

I suppose I must include Atlas Shrugged, which pushed me into all the works of Rand, though I always felt she was missing something, and wondered why she had proven incapable of writing a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, turning instead to non-fiction to avoid having to write about how John Galt could run a successful American state without succumbing himself to the ring of power.

But Rand is, and always will be, a cul-de-sac. She is a statist and a collectivist, and a world entirely peopled by Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart clones, all smoking one very rational brand of cigarette, to provide fires in their mind, would be a very dull and oppressive place indeed, probably even worse than living in a Gulag.

At least in a Gulag, as Alexander Dolgun testifies, there is still some room left for a little freedom and rebellion, if only behind the closed curtains of your own mind. The Randians wouldn't be happy until all rogue mental patterns, daring to deviate from the orthodox line of a long-dead woman, had been entirely eradicated by the comrades.

But Atlas Shrugged helps, as does her much more readable earlier work, Anthem, which I wouldn't be surprised to know had been read by George Orwell before he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.

I think by this time you will be turning for home on the last lap of the race, having done the hard yards already, especially if by this point you have discovered

So from then on it's a swift gallop through Economics in One Lesson (Hazlitt), The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality (Mises), Human Action (Mises), and finally, Man, Economy, and State, with Power and Market (Rothbard).

To finally kill off any remaining shreds and hangover vestiges of socialism, you must then hammer in the final stake through the heart, in the form of Socialism, by Von Mises himself. (IMHO, his finest work.)

From then on, there are hundreds of books to read and soak up. I'll let you work out your own non-fiction ones, but the fictional ones to read are Lord of the Rings, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, anthing by Robert Heinlein (especially the Moon is a Harsh Mistress), all of the Harry Potter novels, and Time Will Run Back, by Henry Hazlitt.

There's many, many, many other books that will help. For instance, The Prince, by Machiavelli, Democracy the God that Failed, by Hoppe, and A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, also by Hoppe.

But by this point you should be well saved. So I'll leave it for you to work out where to go next.

Happy reading!

Right, it's getting on for 6pm, here, as the peachy round sun drops down over the western Gulf. So I'll be off for a rather large G&T, down by the beach, to whet my appetite for dinner.

By Gad, it's a tough life here in Maturin World.

Pip pip!!


Paul said...

As a ex-randroid myself (it only lasted 3 months) I found this very revealing for me:

"I suppose I must include Atlas Shrugged, which pushed me into all the works of Rand, though I always felt she was missing something, and wondered why she had proven incapable of writing a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, turning instead to non-fiction to avoid having to write about how John Galt could run a successful American state without succumbing himself to the ring of power."

I would say that the reason she did not wrote it was because logically it would have been anarcho-capitalist order just as it was at the Gulch. As she was committed to statism she could not write that.

Paul said...

Quite ironically just after writing the above comment I read this little piece by Barbara Branden explaining why Rand never wrote fiction again.

Much better explanation.

Jack Maturin said...

No Paul, I think you were right in your first comment. That explanation by Branden seems like a smoke screen to me.

Rand couldn't write a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, because it would logically, dare I say it, "rationally", have required that there be absolutely no state.

She couldn't face it. So she bottled out and wrote some wooden non-fiction books instead.

As to her taking two years to write John Galt's speech, I'm not surprised. It takes about three years to read! ;-)

Andrew said...

Do you think you could change your mind again?

Jack Maturin said...

Several parts, to get round length problem. Part I:

Well Andrew, a very good question. Austrians change their mind all of the time, whenever they are convinced that what they previously thought was true, is more false than the next paradigm.

For instance, I'm sure it would have been possible for the early proto-Austrian Spanish Scholastics to believe in a flat Earth. Then later, when Copernican theories emerged, to switch to believing in a changeless universe, in which the Earth is a globe, then after Hubble, to believe in an ever-expanding universe with a 'Big Bang', and so on.

In a more 'political' vein, I used to believe a few years ago in IP rights, until I discovered the work of Kinsella. Perhaps the most intelligent man in England, Jan Lester, author of 'Escape from Leviathan', has tried on several occasions to persuade me otherwise, and sometimes had me on the edge of recanting, but never quite made it (By the way Jan, if you're reading, I'm more hard-core Kinsellian than ever! ;-)

Jack Maturin said...

Part II:

If you mean in the 'Larger Picture', could I stop being an Austrian, and perhaps become a 'Boris Johnson for PM' or 'Daniel Hannan for Ruler of the Universe minarchist', then I rule this highly unlikely, perhaps a 7-sigma black swan event. Though I would never rule it out, as all things that are possible could one day come true.

(BTW, I would support now either of these men, as I would Peter Schiff and Ron Paul, if their campaigns helped further our anarcho-capitalist aims, mainly of secession and tax reduction - anything that shrinks government that is peaceful is within the ken of Austrianism)

There is actually a small well of thought in my mind which is actually socialist, as this is my past. And I have to keep this smegger well guarded. But there's no way he's getting out again.

Socialism is pure evil. It kills people by the million. It lives on crime. It steals bread from the mouths of babes. It destroys men and turns them into children. It constantly seeks to return us to the stone age via whatever device it can lay its hands upon. Its prime motivation is hatred. Its prime driver is greed. Its prime weapon is envy.

Wherever and whenever it gains an upper hand in any society, like a malevolent cancer it destroys everything it touches, whether this is production, education, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit. And this is no accident. Most socialists see the Gulag, the Nazi state, the horrors of Mao, the murders of Guevara, and always its the same mantra. "They went wrong, they haven't tried out 'True' socialism yet". Whereas of course, to the degree that each of these socialist societies was tolerable, was because they had left some degree of freedom behind. Sweden, for instance, still allows some of the great entrepreneurial companies of the world to exist within its midst, leaving them enough tax breaks to continue - I was talking to a Swedist businessman recently, who told me that if you play the tax breaks well enough, a business will pay less tax in Britain, so 'so much' for the 'socialist nirvana' nonsense.

In the end it comes down to what you want. Do you want to be free or do you want to be a slave.

Jack Maturin said...

Part III:

If you want to be a slave, I'm sure your masters will put enough into your iron rice bowl each day to keep you going, so you can work in their fields and keep them relatively wealthier than you. So go down the socialist road.

But if you want the freedom to think and to improve your life in whatever way you see fit, without treading upon the property rights of others, then anarcho-capitalism is the road towards which all should aspire.

Socialism, left to its purest devices, would take us back to the stone age. Even if tempered with a ruling class of technocrats, it cannot really manage much better than a medieval agrarian society, with as little complexity as possible, and each hut and each village cut off from the division of labour which capitalism provides.

In many ways, I'm not really hard-core enough yet. I still inwardly shudder at some of the conclusions of Professor Hoppe, but that's just the old socialist in me hanging on for grim life.

So yes, I probably will change again. I will probably become even more hard-core Austro-anarcho-capitalist. I still have a long road to tread.