Tag: autonomy

Is Socialism Bad for a Country and its People?

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

Through most of American history, our country has demonized socialism openly. In fact, during certain periods of time, refusing to do so was costly. During the McCarthy Era, for example, those who did not condemn socialism and communism were often subject to sharp punishment. In other time periods, the same has been true.

Of course, it is safe to say that punishing someone because of their views is unjust. Nonetheless, it has occurred many times. Why is this? Naturally, there was a great American fear of socialism and communism during the Cold War. But, does this justify the general fear and hatred of socialism itself? The simple answer: it’s complicated.

Is Socialism Bad for a Country?

There are a number of elements to the question of whether socialism is bad for a people or country. In order to properly answer it, it is critical to address all parts of it. Failure to do so, as I will explain below, can create a dangerous partial truth at best.

The Definition of Socialism

First and foremost, one must comprehend what socialism truly is. This notion is logically sound: it is impossible to fairly like or dislike something that you do not understand. Ultimately, socialism is a worker ownership of the means of production. Rather than private individuals owning money and land, the collective society does. In some, more authoritarian cases, the state steps in to handle the distribution of goods. On the other hand, smaller socialist societies claim an ability to do this without the state.

Naturally, this runs in direct contrast to the current American way of life, which centers around private profit. Yet, different is not inherently good or bad. Now, a convincing argument could exist, saying that if the socialist system forces you to participate, then it is a negative force in the world. This, of course, is due to the lack of autonomy and choice that such a system would bring about.

Opt-Out Socialism

What can we say, though, about a more voluntary form of socialism? A number of such communities exist, notably the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. By joining the group, you agree to abide by the rules, but you also can reside peaceably without contributing or receiving anything. This, of course, does not rob you of that same autonomy. At every point, you are free to sever communication and allegiance with the group. The same is not true about a modern democracy or a forceful socialist community. In both cases, there are punishments for refusing to comply. So, if someone is allowed to opt out of this process without harm, there is no loss of autonomy. A form of opt-out socialism, therefore, does not violate the ideal of individual freedom.

Clearly, the idea of socialism does not always take away autonomy. So, it does not necessarily run in contrast to the moral freedom that we as human beings all possess. Various forms may support or oppose the idea of freedom, but it is wrong to place a blanket statement on them.

What is Political Good and Bad?

Beyond the word socialism, it is also important to define the other terms. To know if socialism is bad, you must furthermore know what it means to be bad. The word itself is a negation of good, so for the sake of definition, I will focus on the positive form. The thing is, though, it is frankly impossible to think of a real definition that can apply to a country or group of people.

Economic Growth

When it comes down to it, different people will have different ideas for what is good. Some, for instance, may believe that economic indicators are the surefire way of determining the goodness of a political system. For them, it appears that a more open or mixed market may be a good system. The numbers, on the surface, appear to support this notion. After all, world poverty dropped from 53 percent to 17 percent from 1981 to 2011. This perfectly coincides with industrial revolutions throughout the world and the formation of market economies in developing countries.

Other Measures of Goodness

Looking deeper, though, it becomes clear that this may not truly be good for everyone. Arguments can exist far beyond the economic scale. For example, there may be environmental, moral, religious, or philosophical perspectives on the issue.

From an environmental perspective, industrial revolutions cause a great deal of pollution. In a decentralized, agrarian society without mass industry, rivers would perhaps not be as unclean as they were after shifts to market and industry. Morally, perhaps the consumer lifestyle does not bring a sense of inner peace. After all, would not a happy but poor life to 60 be more fulfilling than a rich, miserable life to 100? Neither capitalism nor socialism will make everyone happy. Inevitably, though, there will be some who would prefer that shorter life.

A Question of Perspective

Clearly, there are countless perspectives on this forever back and forth debate. Is socialism bad? The question is not a fair one. Socialism can mean a number of things, and the word bad is too one-dimensional. It may boost a certain man’s wealth and life expectancy, but take away his connection to his community and pollute his river. Perhaps, in some other cases, it will not drastically affect his income but will make him a happier person.

If we can say that two or more perspectives exist, then the word “bad” is not proper for the discussion. And, with just those two above, we have the two necessary ideas. Of course, many more can exist, and each only furthers my point. Socialism is not bad, necessarily. It very well can be, according to an individual. The word bad, though, is one-dimensional and limiting. Thus, it is not accurate to use it to describe many different perspectives, provided that the preferred system does not initiate force against anyone. And, as shown above, opt-out socialism does not cause any loss of autonomy.

Still, someone may use it subjectively, to describe his or her own life. A woman may prefer capitalism to socialism or vice versa, and declare one of them good for her. But, that woman is in the heads of no other man or woman. Thus, she cannot decide if it is good for any other person, let alone the world. For such a complex issue, we must always turn to the individual: each person can only assess his or her own best interests.


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The Paradox of Abortion: Liberty or Duty?

By Kaihua Zhou | United States

The question of abortion presents a highly complicated moral and political issue. However, placing it in a philosophical context of inequality adds greater clarity. Society generally accepts that we have a duty towards the disadvantaged. Government programs such as Affirmative Action are intended to resolve inequalities. Much of the philosophical basis for such programs are based on the work of Harvard professor John Rawls ( 1921-2002).  Rawls proposed that justice consists of two principles.  The first principle, liberty principle, asserts that justice requires that individuals deserve “basic rights and liberties”. Also, the difference principle asserts that justice requires a degree of equality.

 Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first, they must be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they must be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society. -John Rawls

Thus, Rawls envisioned a society that maximized equality while preserving liberty.

How might these principles pertain to abortion? It is clear that governments should respect an individual’s medical and personal choices. If abortion is not a basic right, it is a right that libertarians and conservatives can respect.  With rights, though, come duties. This is the basis of Rawls’ difference principle: society has a responsibility towards the disadvantaged. While libertarians and conservatives may disagree with this specific formulation, we can agree with the overall principle. Consider Milton Friedman‘s assertion that libertarianism is “the smallest, least intrusive government consisting with a maximum freedom for each individual to follow his own ways, his own values, as long as he doesn’t interfere with anyone else doing the same.”

Does abortion benefit the least advantage? No. Moreover, abortions limit freedom. In an abortion, who possesses the advantages? While a pregnant woman did not choose her condition, she has advantages compared to her offspring. She, after all, has the choice, whether or not to have an abortion.  Through her choices, she can place herself in better circumstances.

In contrast, an unborn child does not have the capacity to choose their actions.  Consequently, they cannot change their circumstances, completely at the mercy of nature. Consider disabled fetuses. They did not choose to have imperfect genetic combinations.  Despite this, they may be aborted for this characteristic. There is clearly an inequality of power in this situation. One party has the ability to intentionally harm or benefit the other. The other has no such power.  In such a situation, one has the ability to interfere with another individual’s freedom to live. How does an abortion benefit the least advantaged, the unborn?

As a society, we seek to alleviate the suffering of the disadvantaged.  While we must respect liberty, we must honor this duty as well.



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My Body, My Choice. Down to the Genes.

By Casey Ward | United States

People’s choice to modify their body is theirs alone. Body modification has been around for thousands of years and as technology advances so to do our methods. We started by giving piercings and tattoos but today we have implants, reconstructive surgery and now gene therapy. The government still tries to regulate the old methods even today. Yet, with gene editing on the rise, we cannot allow the government to control this.

Families around the world are supporting the movement, betting on gene therapy in hopes that it will cure a long list of rare diseases that plague their children. But throughout time, the FDA has made effective treatments harder to get. For example, take the case of Barry Marshall. He and his partner discovered inflammatory bacteria which led to ulcers and stomach cancer. However, Dr. Marshall was not allowed to treat this infection without years of studies while people were dying, so he drank infected broth. When he developed ulcers, they were prepared with a cure, proving him right and saving people from agony. Today we see this same trend in gene therapy. People are dying and in need of a cure, while others dictate the use of this technology.

The government has no right to impose what they see as morally right upon others. The regressive policies of the U.S. will leave us behind in the end. When debating the legality of such policies the supreme court’s take years that patients don’t have in order to decide what is ethically right. Coupled with the long history of governments committing their own atrocities, they lose credibility. Even big pharma is backing gene therapy as a cheaper way to cure rare diseases which become more common as people age.

Gene therapy is one of our best ways of extending life. With people like Elizabeth Parrish of BioViva pushing the limits by going around the FDA to be “patient zero” in gene editing in the attempt to extend her life. The benefits of gene therapy should be available to everyone if they choose to.

Whether trying to cure rare diseases or extend life, in no case should it be the government’s choice.