Sunday, October 25, 2015

Socratic Dialogue: Socialism is Theft

A: I believe in Socialism and equality, yes! We need to make Wall Street and greedy corporations pay their Fair Share so the majority of the population doesn't suffer while the 1% have basically all the wealth in America. It's completely unfair!
Q: So, as an example, you believe it is acceptable to approach a rich stranger and force them to give you an amount of money you deem "fair" so you can spread it around to people who you think deserve it? Even if they don't work or produce anything of value? Just because they are unequal in wealth?
A: I've always loved Robin Hood, so yes, I agree. It's a morally grey area.  Morality is relative, it's my personal opinion.
A: I wouldn't personally steal from you!  I would actually help you, you're my friend. You're also not a millionaire or a billionaire! There is no reason to take your stuff, you're not the 1%.
Q: But theft is wrong. Stealing from me isn't any different than stealing from anyone else.
A: Most people think stealing is always wrong.  I think it's usually wrong but it all depends on the circumstances.
Q: So if we make up the rules as we go along, murder, rape, theft; all can be justified depending on the circumstances at the time.
A: No! Murder is always wrong! Rape is always wrong! It's never OK to harm another person, but theft isn't as bad as murder or rape.
Q: What if the outcome of a theft caused death or bodily harm?
A: Well, I guess you wouldn't be able to know the final outcome until it actually occurred.
Q: So, knowing the outcome of theft is uncertain, would it not be correct to say that it is always wrong?
A: I guess you are right. We don't know with one hundred percent certainty what the consequences of our actions will be.
Q: The Golden Rule is a classic example of a normative principle: We should do to others what we would want others to do to us. Since I do not want my neighbor to steal my car, then it is wrong for me to steal her car. Since I would want people to feed me if I was starving, then I should help feed starving people. Using this same reasoning, I can theoretically determine whether any possible action is right or wrong. So, based on the Golden Rule, it would also be wrong for me to lie to, harass, victimize, assault, or kill others. The Golden Rule is an example of a normative theory that establishes a single principle against which we judge all actions.
A: But I think we need to transcend the idea of right and wrong.  People make their own choices.
Q: But if you want to live in a functioning society, not chaos, isn't it true people need to agree on "principles" and "rules" in how to go about their daily lives?
A: Following your line of reasoning, correct.
Q: Otherwise there would be no "civilization".
A: Yes, I guess it would be quite messy, actually. You can't really call chaos or hunter gatherer groups "civilization" in the modern sense.
Q: So if you believe in the Golden Rule, you logically have to agree that stealing is wrong, otherwise you disagree with the Golden Rule (do unto others).
A: Yes, I see.
Q: You can agree that in order for large societies to function there must be an agreement on some kind of Ethics that everyone *should* abide by. Otherwise you will be punished for disobeying the cultural agreements of The Golden Rule and Private Property Rights.
A: Logically you are making sense. I am following you.
Q: The other side of the coin is chaos and no civilization, where no one can agree on any Ethics or Moral code. So, to take the argument further, is there any circumstance where it is allowed to take someone else's property? As an example, if a person borrowed money and entered into a voluntary contract with another person or entity and never paid it back, then yes, it would be allowed because they violated the contract.
A: How about certain circumstances? What is a person was starving to death and needed to steal food from someone  or a store in order survive?
Q: Ethically, the person who is starving and on the verge of death is functioning at the basest level of existence, so he is compelled to act unethically in order to survive.  This, however, does not change the definition of said ethics and morals.
A: Ok, that makes sense.
Q: So the next question is how do we compromise and find solutions in a society that are ethical and moral?
A: I'm unsure. Laws?
Q: We know from our conversation that stealing is wrong.  It does not matter if the person is rich or poor.  The ethics don't change from person to person.
A: Based on your line of reasoning...yes.
Q: So, we must come up with solutions that do not violate these principles.  Saying "Take all the money from rich people and give it to the poor" isn't ethical or logical.  And when you accept that then there are no vague arguments for generalized redistribution of wealth based on subjective ethics or morality. So, to reiterate, 1) stealing is wrong, and 2) ethics do not change from person to person or situation to situation.  That is true equality because everyone is treated equally, or they are not.  And also, based on reasoning we can now come to an agreement on what laws are "just" and "unjust".
A: Yes.
Q: The world is a complicated place, we both agree.  The next logical step is how does a society deal with people who violate these principles and violate the Golden Rule?
A: Not sure.
Q: We can now discuss further, since we have both agreed on what these concepts are.
A: Yes.
Q: You stated earlier that you were a socialist and also that you believed stealing was justified in certain circumstances. So, based on these principles, if you agree with them, you can not believe in a socialist government because it is based on redistribution of wealth and property by force (theft).
A: Ok, but based on your argument isn't it also wrong to let people die from health complications because they can not afford health care?
Q: Hold on, we're not quite there yet!  So, how does a society take care of the indigent in an ethical way?  If we both agree on the Golden Rule, the solution can not be taking a wealthy person's money by force just because they happen to be wealthy.  If we believe in equality, we must treat everyone the same.  And this is where we get problems because society at present is not working in an ethical or equal way.
A:  Based on your argument, yes.  Based on my feelings, I think the wealthy need to pay more than they currently do, and I have wealthy friends and family.
Q: Ok, but those are your feelings, not logic.
A: Ok, right!  But some people starve and some people are so rich! There is no equilibrium!
Q:  This is where the conversation begins about equality. What is equality? Can people in society ever really be equal?  The answer is no. So if you look at equality, we start with some very simple examples.  Some people are born beautiful and they have that advantage and become models or actors. Some people are tall and athletic and have advantages in sports or physical pursuits.  Some people are born with high IQ's, or blind, deaf, poor, short, disabled, etc.
A: Sure, sure!
Q:  So we know that humanity in the most simplistic sense is not equal in advantages and traits and circumstance.  Some are at the top percentile, like geniuses, the majority of us are just average, and the small percentage at the bottom are more disadvantaged for whatever reason.
A:  True, we all have our strengths and weaknesses.
Q:  So, would it be fair and ethical to take the eyes from someone and give them to a blind person just because you wanted everyone to be equal?  It's a yes or no question.
A:  That would not be ethical, no.
Q:  So if we follow the same logic, would it be fair to take the wealth and property of someone like Bill Gates, who in the top percentile invented amazing products that have value, and give it to people who happen to have less just for the sake of equality?
A:  I see what you are saying, ok.
Q:  So I take it that your answer is no, it's not ethical to do that.  So, it's unethical to take someone else's eyes or money or beauty or intelligence and try to redistribute it.  It's ethically wrong and it's also impossible in most cases!  So logically we have concluded that the world and humanity is inherently unfair and not equal, and it's unethical to attempt to make it so by force.
A:  I see now.
Q:  This is where we have a fundamental misunderstanding at present with one group of people who believe it is "right" to take from others by force and give it to the rest.  And another group who, when faced with these dilemmas know it's unethical.  So we have come to the conclusion that we live in an unfair world.  Now how do we deal with this?
A:  Not sure! But I follow you.
Q:  So, ethically we now know socialism, at its core, and with all the emotional rhetoric is inherently unethical in its foundational principles.
A:  Yes, based on our conversation, yes!  I guess I don't really identify as a socialist, I just like some of the ideas.  The idea of taking care of everyone is a very good idea.
Q: Yes, the basis of socialism is what I said previously, you just like the rhetoric and the emotional aspect of altruism, not the logic.  The "idea" of taking care of each other is a great and noble desire.
A:  Right, so how do we go about taking care of one another? By force, or not?
Q:  Before I continue I must say that the majority of people who are against socialism know the ethical arguments, even if they can't articulate it like I just did.  They just know it's wrong and unfair.  They aren't "right wing nut jobs who hate the poor". They understand that their beliefs and the socialist model are not compatible, even if they can't articulate it in economic jargon.
A: Yeah.
Q: Ok, so for the most part, the majority of Christians are not socialist because they believe in the Golden Rule and the 10 Commandments so they are not crazy zealots either, like a lot of the progressive "left" would have everyone believe.  This is a huge misunderstanding and a reason why the two camps fight and don't philosophically get along.  The are diametrically opposed like magnets.
A: Yep.
Q:  So you can't have a cohesive society when the people can't agree on basic right and wrong.  It will eventually self-destruct from within.  We can discuss economics and corporations next time.
A: Goodnight!

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