Saturday, February 6, 2016

Altered Meanings, the Evolution of Terms

The global communication network of today is an interesting place.  Everyone who has a point to make uses language in different ways, sometime twisting meanings, facts, and myths in such a way as the words coming out the back-end are almost unrecognizable from the words that went in.  I’d like to borrow a couple of quotes from Marshall McLuhan, social philosopher and author of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, to frame this post.

“We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us,” and “A point of view can be dangerous luxury, when substituted for insight and understanding.”

What I observe in the social media that engulfs and bombards us each day and night seems akin the raucous debates that must have taken place in all gatherings of people from the beginning of man’s move from small family groups into tribes, villages, and ultimately nations.  In the beginnings exchange of information was personal with face to face communication, where the words were supplemented with the physical support of expressions, gestures, and inflection.  As we see in today’s global exchanges we’ve moved far beyond those days, and we are rapidly losing the ability to convey our thoughts and gain understanding through direct human interaction.  With this loss of direct interaction; the nuance in meaning and opportunity for direct exchange for clarification is becoming rarer each day.

For most who will read these thoughts you will have been directed here through a Facebook link.  So let’s talk about Facebook as a social tool and how its has altered the way we think and act.  This now global phenomenon has opened the door to global communication to anyone with a processor and access to the internet.  You would think with this access would come greater communication and social understanding.  Unfortunately, what I’ve observed is just the opposite.  We come into the town square with our insular points of view and dogmatically shout them for all the world to hear.  Many of us display a rudeness and vulgarity that society has not previously tolerated, yet within the public square we stand there hurling insults and disparagement at those who hold differing views.  We here in the United States are now seeing this translated into the typical television broadcasts and even our political dialogue.

There was a YouTube video I watched a few days ago that reinforces my point that the human dynamic is critical.  It does it without really intending, but it also provides solid food for thought about how and why we are moving towards divergent beliefs.  The “Smarter Every Day” host Destin Sandlin was chosen by the White House to interview the President, and he created this video to document his experience.  I think it is worth a look.

I was most fascinated with his discussion of the loss of a two-channel feedback loop and how that affects the normalization of data. What seems to be swept aside by even the President is how he contributes to the loss of this second channel through the personal choices he makes in communicating to the nation.

So all of this is preamble to talk about how are we moving further apart as the party faithful are now taking common words and twisting their meanings to fit their particular agendas.  Let’s start with the latest political ideology in the forefront of the news, “Democratic Socialist.”  This is not a new term, and I think it can easily be traced back to the end of the 19th century.  The fundamental position of a democratic socialist is the political process remains democratic, while at the end of the day all economic production is controlled by the state, in theory through gradual incorporation.  In other words, private ownership is ultimately replaced by social ownership.  This is different from Marxist-Leninist socialism (Communism) in that the political process remains democratic rather than authoritarian. The driving premise behind democratic socialism is to theoretically address those issues perceived as problems caused by capitalism.

I find it a bit humorous that those who don’t like the socialism concept throw around examples of how the Nazi’s were the “Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party” and for those who do like Mr. Sanders they bring up the fact that Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” lays out an anti-communist (socialist) manifesto.  In both cases it is a purely emotional appeal with little or no logic to support its use as a counter to what socialism would or would not do for the nation.

The idea of state ownership was not something discussed in any detail in either the US Constitution, or the Federalist Papers used to education the country on the concepts of the new nation.

Everything I read suggests the founding fathers, coming from a principally agrarian society did not see a significant role for the government in the creation and control of the economy, but rather an enabler of commerce. That said, we see in today’s America a deep governmental involvement in the total economic infrastructure, whether it be from the simple taxation of interstate commerce, the regulation and compliance of various industries, or to the complete control and sell off of something like the electro-magnetic spectrum. 

Each of our steps towards socialism have been small and gradual, with each administration and congress inching ever closer to control.  We saw a huge movement with the election of FDR in 1932, where the Federal Government effectively closed down the banks and took dramatic action to control the banking system.  Since then the government has passed law after law to build up or regulate industry.  We have tax benefits to encourage home ownership for the housing industry, we have energy credits to encourage the sale of hybrid and electric vehicles, the food and drug industries have regulation after regulation governing them, and still we are surprised with unscrupulous business leaders find loopholes to increase their profits.
     Although there are countries where socialism has worked there are serious questions about how effective those approaches would be in a country as large and socially varied as the United States, where the population is, to use the modern term “diverse” and the self-interests of the individual divergent.  Where socialism has worked the populations are fairly uniform and united in their support of the underlying premise that all money belongs to the government and it will disperse that money based on its determination of need.  This is reflected in the various taxing schemes of the countries that identify with socialism.  A question I’ve not seen addressed in a socialist approach is how will innovation and creativity be incentivized and rewarded, or how will costs be controlled?  Our history has shown when government bureaucrats are left to their own devices spending other people’s money – cost is not a primary consideration.  A review of recent events has shown greed, graft, deceit and misappropriation occur routinely in government organization (just as they do in private industry).  The only difference is we have built protection after protection for the bureaucrats (e.g. VA scandals).
     For those who would support a declared socialist, democratic or otherwise, ask yourself how much of your individual freedom of choice you are willing to surrender for a promise the government will take care of all your needs.  Think about that each time there is a rant about the government cutting Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, or any other non-discretionary spending program. 
At the same time for those who would support the Republicans ask yourselves if when they promise to do all the things they promise, aren’t they actually advocating for more government control of the economy, or greater socialism?  It seems to me to be a fine line regardless of what they call themselves between all those seeking the power of the Presidency on either side.


BAD said...

John, Bernie Sanders made the following statement in a speech delivered at Georgetown University on November 19th where he outlined what the term democratic socialism means to him.

"Today, in America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, more than half of older workers have no retirement savings—zero—while millions of elderly and people with disabilities are trying to survive on $12,000 or $13,000 a year. From Vermont to California, older workers are scared to death. “How will I retire with dignity?,” they ask?"

I believe in most (not all) cases Americans choose to not treat their financial future as a priority. One of the biggest killers of retirement savings is lifestyle inflation. We have this insidious habit, as Americans, of continually upgrading our possessions as we get older and earn more money (keeping up with the Townsends). Of course, if these upgrades truly made us happier in proportion to the money we were spending, that'd be great.

Always thought-provoking when I read your blog postings. By the way, only 11 days until Cardinals' pitchers and catchers report to spring training (12 days for the Red Sox)

John said...

Bruce, I'll watch the full speech within the next couple of days, but I believe the excerpt you use may explain why Mr. Sanders is a socialist - not what socialism means to him, or how he would implement the move to socialism to correct the problems he sees under our current economic system.

Your second point speaks to what I believe is just one of the fundamental issues at play in our nation, but we must ask ourselves why is this so? You and I grew up at a time when the government, including both Democrat and Republican, was telling Americans to believe in Social Security -- it will always be there for your golden years. With that promise in place those who were not part of some union with a retirement plan, or part of the various local, state, and federal governments with their own plans, trusted to SS to be their retirement plan so they could take the money they should have put away and live as much of the Madison Ave inspired American Dream as possible. Not unlike Aesop's story of the grasshopper and the ant. So at the end of the day we have a social promise made by the government that is unsustainable. I don't see much difference between this and the promises made by Mr. Sanders.

Finally, 30 days from today, weather permitting, I'll be sitting in Jet Blue Park enjoying preseason. Where will you be?

BAD said...

I don't see the differences either. But I do believe the hungry grasshopper could have moved away from the cold climate he obviously lived in, and moved down to south Florida where food and baseball is plentiful in the always comes back to "choices." Yes I see that the Sox are hosting the Orioles on 6 March and the Rays on 7 March.......if it is 7 March you ask of my whereabouts, you know I will be sitting with some of my favorite friends discussing the challenges of disconnects and offsets.

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