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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Interesting Questions

Jake, at Smackmybooty.com, has posted some questions arising from a discussion with a friend of his. As I think they are interesting and require fairly long responses I decided to post my answers to his questions here. 1. Was communism really all that "evil"? Yes. Communism in Russia killed millions of people. Communism in China killed millions of people. China is still not exactly what you would call good. North Korea is still killing vast numbers of people. Perhaps a more interesting question is: Is communism inherently evil? I believe that it is, at least if attempted on a large scale. Communism at a philosophical level treats individuals as a means to the end of a stable egalitarian society. Capitalism in contrast treats individuals as means in and of themselves. When your individuals are means, rather than ends, it is easy to justify abuses as needed for the greater good. Totalitarianism and Communism go hand in hand. One can imagine a communist society where everyone works as hard as they can for the benefit off all without coercion, but doing this requires imagining that all men are selfless angels. 2. Were we really fighting communism by helping Saddam? Mostly we were fighting Iran by helping Saddam. There was also a component to are strategy of providing some help to Saddam to balance out the help the USSR was giving Saddam (which dwarfed our own contributions.) We certainly didn't want Iraq to become a Soviet client state. Was this a wise policy? Difficult to say. 3. Was the fight against communism/USSR worthwhile or needed? Yes. See answer 1 for some of the reasons. It is important to remember that the USSR had an expansionist policy with the aim of world-wide adoption of communism. The United States actively thwarted the USSR in many attempts to increase their empire. Read some of Lech Walessa or Vaclav Havel's writings if you want a better understanding of life in the Soviet client states. I will admit that our tactics were not always the best in this struggle, but our goal was noble and we did far more good than harm. 4. Is America a "compassionate" country? If so, why? I suppose this depends on what your definition of compassionate is. We are a generous nation. Although other countries rank higher than us in foreign aid when you factor in our military aid to the rest of the world we rank highest by far. At the same time we are an individualist nation and believe that to an extent people should be allowed to fail. We tend to not believe in cradle to grave social services that are common in much of Western Europe which some view as showing a lack of compassion. We believe in equality of opportunity, rather than equality of outcome. 5. Is America more or less compassionate than previous societies such as the Romans, Soviets, Greeks, whoever? I think America is more compassionate than any of the ancient empires. Compassion was not a particularly highly regarded virtue in any of those societies. The Romans did have their 'bread and circuses' but I don't know of anyone who regards that as an act of compassion as opposed to a bribe to the masses. Foreign aid unattached to political gain and control was an unknown concept to those times as well. As to the Soviets, I don't think that compassion was much of a trait of their society on a political level. I am sure that many individual Soviet citizens were very compassionate but I do not regard that as a trait of their government. One could make an argument that any American compassion as an expression of government (rather than individuals) is only an expression of real politic and thus not compassion at all, but that would only lead to a conclusion that no government is compassionate and in that governments are incapable of compassion. 6. Does America do anything for any reason other than power grab? This question obviously relates to the last question. However, even if you were to rule out compassion as a motive there are many motives for things we do other than power grabs. A clear example is Afghanistan. We obviously didn't go into Afghanistan to gain power, rather it was to remove a threat to our security. No question that this was designed to benefit us, but it was to remove a threat rather than gain power. If you want to phrase the question does America do anything for purely altruistic motives then that would be a tougher question. Since I believe, and many agree with me, that improving conditions in the rest of the world will have benefits to us as well as benefits to others then I guess the answer to the second question would have to be no. An example of this is the eradication of small pox, one of the great accomplishments of the 20th century. While this provided a huge benefit to a large number of people throughout the world it benefited America as well because we do not have to suffer from periodic epidemics brought in from other places. Altruism or just enlightened self interest? In any case, not a power grab.


Blogger Aric said...

1. No. However, it was fatally flawed in that it failed to take into account individuals who did NOT work for the benefit of their fellow man. The societies where Communism "killed" millions of people were already killing millions of people before Communism took root.

2. I agree with Mr. Justus.

3. Yes. Although Russia was not expansionistic (more opportunistic) in the classical sense, Stalin's paranoia combined with Russian fear of invasion to mimic it well enough not to matter.

4. Sure. Why not.

5. Eh. Arguable.

6. Lots of times.

-- Aric

9/09/2004 03:59:00 PM  

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