Monday, 31 January 2011

Invoking the Devil

This is almost a whinge. Almost.

Astute readers of this blog will have figured out that I have a kind of leftist leaning in politics. Simply, I think that if we form ourselves into towns, states and nations, then we have things in common like roads, parks and water. Things in common should be funded by shared money, and traditionally we've collected this money through the form of taxation. Sure, no one especially enjoys paying tax, but for me I think that it's fine as long as it's spent on things that benefit the community being taxed. If everything's going well, we ought to see the benefits in the lives of the most vulnerable in society: the sick, the lame, the orphan, the widow, and so on.

Often, when I write on political things, someone will suggest that my views were applied by Stalin or Mao, implying that views like mine will result in the deaths of millions under an oppressive regime.

Ouch.

I'm no Stalinist - that man presided over a horror, no question about it - but I'm not so sure that invoking Stalin is even a good argument, even an argument-by-similarity. If I look hard enough, I'm sure I'll even find that I have something in common with Jeff Buckley, but that's not enough to make me an avant-garde musician.

I suppose I could just deny that Stalin or Mao were ever "true socialists" or "true communists" and that (somehow) I know the One True Way which will lead us to a proper utopia. Maybe I should denounce them to themselves?

Perhaps I should find a capitalist devil to invoke. It's not hard to find them. Take Mobutu of Zaire. He was a staunch anti-communist and ruled over a land with astonishing mineral resources, and yet the population suffered under low living conditions. Is he representative of all capitalism? He was certainly similar enough to the American position for them to back him during his reign. Bush called him, "our most valued friend in Africa." This guy would make a great Capitalist Devil.

The hard thing to do in the face of diabolical invocations is to take them seriously without the baggage. In other words, to ask whether the policy can be turned into an evil. Can a pro-freemarket position about industrial relations lead to another Mobutu? Can a pro-regulation position about the finance industry create another Stalin? In most cases, the answer would be no, but it's worth a moment of self-reflection.

The other hard thing to do is to resist invoking the devil at all. One sin does not turn a person in to the lord of darkness, and it's absurd to even take a discussion in that direction. As easy as it is to bring Mobutu out to fight Stalin, it's little more than schoolyard name-calling.

So it's not quite a whinge. I just don't see the need to bring the devil to the debate.
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