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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Is Socialism More Conducive To Being Person-Oriented Than Capitalism?

In last Tuesday's blogpost (click here), we discussed how materialism minimizes the differences between Socialism and Capitalism. We used Martin Luther King Jr.'s terminology of 'thing-oriented' for materialism. That terminology can be seen in his quote below which comes from his speech against the Vietnam War:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Here, being thing-oriented meant that we place a higher priority on gadgets, profits, and property rights than we do on the welfare of people.  Thus noting that regardless of the political-economic structure one employs, the ethics of the general public plays a major role in determining the state of society. We also note how being more thing-oriented pushes society into demonstrating more of the following characteristics and behaviors:

  • Status and success are most measured in the accumulation of goods
  • People view others as objects to be used to get more things or obstacles to be eliminated or avoided in order to steer clear of losing things. In the end, things become more important than people
  • People are more aggressive in public
  • People become more litigious
  • Society becomes more punitive
  • People will tend to have a deep compassion on others but only on those who "deserve" it.

Of course, what comes next assumes that a person-oriented society is preferred to a thing-oriented one. Does Socialism or Capitalism lead us to be person-oriented than thing-oriented?

Answering this question is problematic. After all, neither Socialism nor Capitalism are monoliths.  So in order to answer the question, we would have to identify which forms of Socialism and Capitalism we are comparing.

To find an answer to the question, what will be done here is to ask which primary characteristic of the two system would cause us to be more person-oriented. Here, the primary characteristics to be compared are collectivism and individualism. Socialism emphasizes collectivism while Capitalism emphasizes individualism.

How Socialism stresses collectivism can vary from one socialist system to another. In socialist systems that rely on elite-centered rule, collectivism applies solely to the sharing of materialistic things. In socialist systems that expand the use of democratic structures, then collectivism also includes the sharing of power. Now the trouble in the history of socialist systems is this, where collectivism did not include the sharing of power, classism took over and then at least those who were in the upper classes became thing-oriented. This was true of the U.S.S.R. after their Civil War where those who had prominent places in the Party were able to enjoy luxuries and privileges which those below would never see.

In Capitalism, the individual with his/her accomplishments, status, and possession becomes the most noteworthy characteristic of society. In Capitalism, it is what we do for ourselves that defines us. But the trouble here is what we fail to do for ourselves also defines us. And since what we can do for ourselves depends on how much we share with each other, what we do or fail to do for ourselves is not always the best measurement of who we really are as people. See, even with its stress on individualism, there is a certain amount of collectivism in Capitalism. An important example of this collectivism can be seen in the building and maintenance of infrastructures.

We should also note that when some emphasize individualism, such as in individual liberty, they do so by limiting whom they see as individual liberty's main predatory: big government. And this is done assuming that power is only found in government and that one individual cannot limit the freedom of other individuals. 

However, it is with this view of government being the primary threat to the individual and his/her liberties that provides an indicator as to whether Socialism or Capitalism will be more likely to provide a society that is more person-oriented. That the more the individual and his/her liberties are stressed, the more defensive the individual is of what they have. And the more defensive the individual is, the less collectivism will exist--that is collectivism in terms of sharing possessions or power. And the more defensive the individual is, the more value that the individual will place on what he/she has over outsiders. And that applies to both the individual's power and possessions.

This is not to say that we should do away with all individualism. After all, Martin Luther King Jr. noted that the failure of Communism was seen in its failure to recognize how life is individual. But what seems to be the case, at least speculatively, is that too much individualism causes society to become more thing-oriented. And thus, Capitalism should tend to push societies to be more thing-oriented than person oriented. On the other hand, a Socialism that allows for the expansion of democracy rather than relying on elite-centered rule might have a better chance at encouraging society to be more person-oriented.

Of course, some Capitalists would want to disagree with this thinking and they would have good reason too. We've been very speculative here. At least, however, when we look at the above characteristics that thing-oriented societies produce, we should at least agree that a person-oriented society is preferable to a thing-oriented society.




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