The Communist in All of Us

Sometimes I get embarrassed when I read certain books in public; one time while I was working at an Elementary school I was confronted by a little girl who asked the simple question – “Why are you reading?” That is a funny story, but I have also gotten unamusing looks from adults with titles like Pride and Prejudice (In a purple cover) and The Book of Mormon. Stares get even icier when I grow my beard out and my appearance resembles that of a homeless man. I just recently reached the epitome of glances with my newest classic – The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. I was reading this scary-sounding book on a park bench one day – my beard looked like a birds nest, and I had my hair up in a man bun. Suffice it to say; mothers walked hurriedly past me and phones were being primed for an Amber Alert. Books are compelling and in the wrong hands can cause a lot of problems; imagine seeing someone reading The ISIS Manifesto: A Guide to Being a Lonewolf. That is why 70 years ago it was hard finding books on Communism and why many libraries blacklisted specific titles. I have mixed feelings about this, but I do believe that it is essential to understand the logic of extreme political thought.

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The Communist Manifesto was a political pamphlet published in 1848 by the German Philosophers Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels (credited for editing). Europe at the time was in a post-French Revolution reordering; class struggle was preeminent and capitalism was taking over the world. The life of a poor laborer consisted of arduous factory work – think of the desperation experienced during the Dust Bowl but tinged with aristocratic barriers. Marx desired to rally the working class against the bourgeoisie (middle to upper class) just like the bourgeoise assembled to fight the aristocracy during the French Revolution. Below is a list of the Communist Parties’ objectives.

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. Heavy progressive or graduated tax.
  3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. 
  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
  8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

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As history has shown, Communism doesn’t work. The idea of “equality” is great but in the Soviet Union – as one example – there were just as many divisions in society – rich and poor, ruling class and working class. What I have taken away most from this book is the idea that we are all a little Communistic. We all think we are 100% right on certain occasions and we believe that our way is the right way – think Liberal and Conservative. In Communist countries, there is no party system – no room for opposing viewpoints – no way to balance out opponents. There are truths in this world and I am not arguing that everyone’s opinion is “correct;” my point is that no individual or group of individuals has all the answers. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party need each other – the extremes of each lead to Communism or Fascism. The flaw with Communism was not that it sought equality; its flaw was the belief that one viewpoint could obtain equality. When we listen to others and learn from the past, we realize that truth lies in the middle. Be wary of extremes and be wary of individuals that proclaim their way is the only way. Marx was a genius, but he forgot what happened to Robespierre in the French Revolution – both examples of government were far from the middle and ended in disaster. What do you think about extreme political beliefs? Do you tend to be in the middle or a staunch fan of one particular party? I would love your comments.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
 -Karl Marx

12 Rules for Life

I’m trying to get back into psychology books after my excessively long venture with the American Presidents. This blog aims to document my journey of reading Philosophy, History, Psychology, and the Classics. This week I am posting about an excellent book –  which in a way covers all those categories. The book is 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson. Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it is written in a balanced manner – both conservatives and liberals find it hard to argue against these tips. Peterson writes almost like a philosopher and these 12 rules are backed up with plenty of metaphysical pondering – a big reason you should read it for yourself. Below are the 12 rules to life.

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1. Stand up straight with your shoulders straight

Try to carry yourself in a confident manner that doesn’t allow people to take advantage of you. Life is hard as it is – feeling mentally and physically slouched makes things worse – so fake it until you make it.

2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

Why do we take care of our loved ones but fail to take care of ourselves? Self care is not selfish.

3. Befriend people who want the best for you 

Iron sharpens iron. We need people in our lives that make us better. Stray from being a hero and don’t try to fix everyone – dysfunction many times wins over in a relationship.

4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not the useless person you are today

Don’t compare yourself to others because there will always be someone better. Instead compare your current self to your former self. Are you improving or stagnant?

5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Children need discipline and are born with inherent aggression. Adults need to guide children and teach them how to function in society. Don’t let your kids control you because you lack discipline – they will grow up to be terrible adults.

6. Set your house in order before you criticise the world

Before questioning the problems of the world get your own problems in order. We aren’t perfect so stop expecting life to always go your way.

7. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient

Life is all about delayed gratification. The things that take the most sacrifice are the most meaningful.

8. Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie

Lies lead to problems in the psyche and the soul. Don’t lie because it just causes more issues in the future. Similar to the idea of rule number 7.

9. Assume the person you are listening to knows something you don’t

Seek first to understand and remember the wisdom of Socrates – “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

10. Be precise in your speech

Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t be vague when a problem arises. Confront issues head on and be truthful to yourself.

11. Do not bother children while they are skateboarding

Let men be men and girls be girls. There are biological differences between the sexes which should be fostered and not suppressed. Overprotecting children is not a form of love.

12. Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street

Life is tough, and we can’t explain away our suffering. If you see a cat in the street pet it and – experience for a second – the mystery of life.

Which is your favorite rule? I particularly like rule number 6. If we practiced just half of these rules daily, I’m sure we would be happier and healthier. 

Rethink Your Righteousness

Have you ever gotten into a political argument with someone on the other side of the aisle? With the 2016 tire-fire-election still burning, I can guess the response to that question. Liberals think Conservatives are uneducated and unsympathetic. Conservatives think Liberals are bleeding-hearts and unpatriotic. Around and around we go till Uncle Fred is blue in the face and millennial Sally is red with furry. Growing up I was more conservative because of my parent’s love for the Republican party and in my college years, I swung more liberal because of inequality enlightenment. So what are my views now? Well, that is complicated because I just read an excellent book by Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt is a moral psychologist and has made it his life’s work to figure out what defines personal, community, and world morality. Let’s test your own morality…

A family’s dog is killed by a car in front of their house. They have heard that dog meat is delicious, so they cook it and eat it for dinner. Is this wrong? Why?

Or how about this one…

Julie and Mark are a brother and sister who, one night on a vacation together, decide to make love. Julie is already taking birth-control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. Was it wrong for them to have sex?

One more just for fun…

A woman cleaning her bathroom decides to cut up an old American flag and use it as a rag to scrub the toilet. Is this morally wrong?

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So what do you think? Is it OK that the brother and sister have sex or the old lady scrubs the crapper with the American flag? Some may say that if the actions are not harming others, then there is nothing immoral being done. Others would say that there is a sanctity to specific objects and the human body, so those previous scenarios are entirely immoral. Haidt found that these questions are answered very quickly by people based on their intuition or “feelings”; reasoning in morality is an afterthought and falls short of ever explaining a knee-jerk reaction. Put in another way, we are tiny riders on large elephants. The elephant is our moral and emotional intuition that is powerful and somewhat wild. The rider is our reasoning and rational brain that tries to steer the elephant in the right direction but does little of the actual legwork.

Riding The Elephant

Our elephant is an amalgamation of life experiences, evolution, genetic predisposition, and worldviews. Haidt discovered through years of research that there are six “taste” buds of morality: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. People have different moral tastes just like they have different tastes for cuisine. Liberals are concerned with the care and fairness tastebuds and are much more likely to accept the above questions as moral because they do not harm others. Conservatives actually have a wider moral palate with the proclivity for liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. This is why historically, conservative candidates receive more votes because those politicians can run on a wider platform. In general, worldviews outside of the West focus more on the last four moral tastebuds because the social fabric of society is far more important than self-expression or “American Individualism.” The point here is not that Conservatives are better than Liberals or more righteous. The point is that both sides of the aisle have legitimate moral concerns that complement the spectrum of human good.

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So what should we do with all this information? First, we need to train our rider to control the elephant. Realize that your beliefs may not always be 100% correct and that listening to others is an excellent exercise in understanding. Realize that your liberal/conservative foe is not someone to defeat but actually someone to embrace – a ying-yang effect that covers the entire moral spectrum. Realize that there are many worldviews out there and that yours is only one type of lens. Hadit makes this recommendation for liberals – progress is good, but it must be taken with caution to protect the traditional pillars of society (Hadit is a Liberal). Hadit makes this recommendation for conservatives – use the liberal  “care and fairness” attributes when businesses prey on others with entrenched interests. Overall, the point is that both sides have important things to offer and neither is entirely righteous. Let’s control our elephants and steer our beliefs from their normal head-on collision to a more amicable side-long saunter.

Would you be Sterilized?

Imagine today if Donald Trump made a decree that all morons and imbeciles must be sterilized to prevent further contamination of the American gene pool. Could you imagine the uproar? Even Fox News couldn’t spin that Twitter rant, but sadly, forced sterilization is still constitutional in the United States. Ninety years ago, in the infamous case of Buck vs. Bell, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr., declared by many as the wisest man in the United States, wrote the majority opinion summarized by this one sentence:”Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The history of Buck vs. Bell and America’s dark marriage to eugenics is detailed in the fascinating book Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen.

Eugenics is defined as the purposeful cleansing of defects in the gene pool to improve a particular species. For example, eugenics is commonly used today when dogs are cross bred to remove negative health traits: English Bulldog + Labrador = Bullador. Human eugenics started in 19th century Europe with the advent of Social Darwinism. Essentially, people thought that “survival of the fittest” not only applied to animals but also to racist white guys. The whitest of the white, Nordic Europeans, viewed themselves as the beez neez and thought all other races should bow to their paleness. Many geneticists believed that every trait, belief, attribute, and characteristic of a person was passed on from their parents. There was very little understanding of the environmental impact on behavior and subsequently all vices were blamed on bad genes. Drunkenness in the Irish. Criminality in the Italians. Promiscuity in the Poles.  Usury in the Jews. Imbecility in the poor. Basically, anyone who was not a white-Northern-European-rich-pious-fricker was deemed to have poor progeny.

At the turn of the 20th century, America was becoming inundated with all sorts of new immigrants: tides of Irish, Jews, Eastern Europeans, South Americans, and Chinese. These new immigrants oftentimes lived in squalor and were more likely to commit crimes, have large families, and be less educated compared to their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. Hence, “real “Americans decided to clean up the gene pool and the States began to pass laws that allowed the sterilization of anyone who had unappealing traits. Intelligence tests were given out to see whether people were imbeciles or morons. These tests were completely erroneous and in many cases found that half of test takers were mentally unfit.

The Immigration Act of 1924 was passed in direct connection to eugenic beliefs on racial inferiority. It drastically decreased the number of immigrants from countries that were not Anglo-Saxon in origin. The climax of the eugenics movement occurred in 1927 when Buck vs. Bell went to the supreme court to determine whether Virginia had the right to sterilize Carrie Buck –  a poor-white-southerner. The case was a complete sham. Carrie was not an imbecile but rather an intelligent girl who had the bad luck of being raped and blamed for promiscuity. Carrie’s lawyer was actually on the prosecutions payroll and she was not informed about any details of the case. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was a firm believer in the “survival of the fittest” and wrote that sterilization did not impede upon Miss. Buck’s constitutional rights.

The eugenics movement in America helped Hitler cement many of his policies during WWII. The Immigration Act of 1924 assisted the Holocaust by  barring Jews from entering America. Nazi Lawyers, during the Nuremberg Trials, actually used the case of Buck vs. Bell as a justification for 1000’s of sterilizations. In total, the US sterilized over 70,000 people throughout the 20th century – the last forced sterilization was in 1981. Today, Buck vs. Bell has still not been overturned and there are cases of coerced sterilizations in prison and mental health systems. Eugenics is still a major concern with advancements in technology that can screen babies for “undesirable” traits. Is it right for a couple to abort a child who has Down Syndrome? What if we get to the point that prenatal screenings tell us the risk of stunted height or ADHD? Who gets to define what traits are good or bad? America’s history with eugenics is scary but its future is even more precarious. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of Social Darwinism and nonsensical-immigration restrictions. I think Charles Darwin said it best:

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”