Re: Anti-Capitalism

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Sun Apr 22 2001 - 07:27:26 MDT

On Sun, Apr 22, 2001 at 12:16:54AM -0700, Lee Corbin wrote:
> Chris Rasch writes,
> > I often wonder however, if I had been born in an
> > intellectual Jewish household in Brooklyn of 1900,
> > instead of a Mormon household in rural Idaho in the
> > 1970's, would I now be an ardent Marxist, instead
> > of an anarchocapitalist?
In my case, try a rather different background: an intellectual Jewish
household in the UK in the 1970's -- but one with a conservative political
outlook, albeit tempered by some sense of social responsibility.

> You've raised the enormously interesting meta-question
> of how it is we obtain our political beliefs, which
> has fascinated me since I was a kid.

Some people simplistically rebel against their parents' outlook. Others
learn critical thinking, start to question authority, and the first
authorities they question in detail are (of course) their parents --
whose beliefs therefore get more critical attention than the other
side (whoever they might be).

Fundamentally, I don't think the labels "left wing" and "right wing"
are particularly helpful. There are at least two dimensions we need
to bear in mind: how we value our individual autonomy and freedom, and
how responsible we feel for the society we live in. These can also be
summed up in terms of our attitude to "rights" -- the natural rights
or constructed rights debate, in other words.

Personally, I feel that we all have a responsibility for the society
we live in -- a classic "leftist" attitude. However, I also feel that
we should seek to minimize limitations on our individual autonomy, and
maximize freedom -- classic "libertarian" (i.e. non-authoritarian
rightist) attitudes. This combination of beliefs simply doesn't fit
in the simplistic unidimensional yardstick we usually use.

> Then there is the geographical factor: people in English
> speaking countries besides America, who in my own private
> evaluation are totally up to speed on everything else, don't
> fathom Hayek and Von Mieses and sound to me clueless on
> economic issues. In other words, were they living in America,
> they'd probably be agreeing with me, and if I were living in,
> say, Australia, then I'd be agreeing with them.
Probably. It's important to bear in mind the fact that the business
environment, and social conditions, differ considerably. For example,
from a UK point of view, the American government bureaucracy extremely
officious (in a most obnoxious manner) and capable of horrifyingly
oppressive actions.

I have a hypothesis that in the US, government service attracts a
proportion of petty tyrants -- control freaks, in a nuthshell -- who are
there because it's the easiest way to acquire legal powers to act out
their wet dreams on the general public. There's a small element of this
personality type in the UK in public service, notably among the police,
but in general it's a lot rarer. The "leftist" attitudes that permeate
society are idealistic: they lead people into public sector work because
they want to do good, rather than because they want to exercise the
billy-club of state power.

As a result, attitudes to state power are different: when you're less
likely to run into a little tin god on a power trip, you can afford to be
more laid back about the idea of government intervention. This attitude
reaches its peak in places like Italy where there are lots of incredibly
dumb laws, and numerous public officials -- but for the most part,
everyone ignores the more idiotic laws in order to get on with life,
and there are no witch hunts to weed out the Eevil Felonious Lawbreakers
Among Us (except when they happen to be mafiosi who plant bombs under
the cars of investigating magistrates).

If Italy had its current criminal code and the same attitude to
enforcement as the USA, everybody there would suffer an instant nervous
breakdown. Or there'd be a libertarian revolution. But they don't take
their government too seriously -- hell, even the *government* doesn't
take itself too seriously -- so there isn't a problem.

I think a chunk of the problem with the US government is that America has
this deep-rooted cultural fixation with efficiency. This is great stuff
in business or engineering, but extending it into everyday life leads to
nightmarish social consequences. The solution isn't to hold a revolution
or kill all the lawyers/politicians/communists/leftists or other enemy
of the day; the answer is to teach petty control freaks to chill out
and enjoy life instead of inflicting their misery on everyone else.

-- Charlie

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All your quote are belong to us.
Copy us every "sig"!

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