Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My Good Luck Charm



     Today I was walking back through my neighborhood after lifting weights when I passed these two young girls (probably about 7 years old) sitting in front of their driveway. I was listening to music so I guess I didn't hear them at first, but I noticed that they were looking at me so I took my earphone out just to catch the youngest one say "Do you want one?" as she held out the leaf shown above. "They're for good luck", her friend added. I said "sure", and then was told that it was going to cost me a penny. I was skeptical about the magic powers of this leaf, but hell for a penny? Imagine if it did work! So anyway, I rummaged through my pocket and informed them that I didn't have any change. The youngest one then said "we'll trade you for your keys". That was easy to say no to. I told them sorry and started to walk off. The youngest one then said "here, take it anyway" and her friend also told me I could have hers. I took the leaf, said thanks, and started to walk off. I got probably a quarter of a block away when I realized I did have my wallet with me. Seeing me walking back one of the girls, somewhat hiding behind the bush that they had clearly picked the leaf from, asked "what are you coming back for?". I told them I didn't have a penny, but that I would give them a dollar for the good luck charm they had so graciously given me. The girl I handed the dollar to looked at it like I had just given her a pot of gold, and the other girl's jaw just dropped. As I walked away I remember how excited I would get when my brother and I would make a few dollars selling lemonade when we were younger and felt good about perhaps giving the same experience to them. That good feeling was much better than anything I could have gotten with that dollar. Sometimes the most selfish thing you can do is to help others.

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     On an unrelated note, my good friend Mookie has recently started up a blog called Meme Processing. Mookie, a fellow libertarian socialist and atheist, has always left interesting, intelligent comments on my blog and I recommend that you go check his site out.

16 comments:

d said...

nice story, that's awesome

Mookie said...

There is a tendency in animals to strike back with greater ferocity against an attack. (Hence IDF and Hez.) You seem to have proved its counterpart: returning kindness with greater kindness. Good for you.

SH said...

The most surprising part of this story for me was that after the girls attempted to sell the leaves they just gave it to you. It's not surprising that humans want to share. It's surprising that the girls were able to overcome the indoctrination of mentality of "having things." Perhaps, they are just too young to be really possessive and greedy. Anyway, it's a good story, the kind that can make your day.

Thank you for the link to the Mookie's blog. It's good to see another thinking and caring person out there.

Do you get a lot of questions like "how can a libertarian be a socialist?" :-)

Drunken Tune said...

"Do you get a lot of questions like "how can a libertarian be a socialist?" :-)"

Most people I know just scratch their heads and shrug. I don't know about Delta, but I consider an economic system such as libertarian socialism something to strive for, but in reality we're not gonna get there any time soon. I'm still not set on it, so I'm still open to other systems that bend that way.

I enjoyed your story, Delta. It reinforces the notion that people are decent, kind, caring human beings that have been brought up in a system that teaches an absolute "way", dividing our common goals.

Tanooki Joe said...

It's stories like these that retard my slow slide into systematic misanthropy, if only for a day.

Mookie said...

drunken,

There are some businesses that approach some of the ideals of libertarian socialism. Worker/employee owned and operated places, while not the norm, are indeed out there and thriving.
Some examples include:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/

http://www.acipco.com/
(The website doesn't actually state they are, but I learned about it from a Frontline issue.)

I am a member and active shopper at this one: http://wheatsville.coop/

We can't hope to see the world suddenly turn upside down in our lifetimes. We have to spread the ideas slowly and diligently until enough people are on board to really, really make a difference. Small steps in the right direction are usually better than jerky, hesitant leaps in random directions. But as far as I'm concerned, just those few companies I mentioned there, and the fact that we're all on this blog talking about this stuff suggests that we are well on our way. The snowball gets bigger the more it rolls down the slope.

Delta said...

sh,

Do you get a lot of questions like "how can a libertarian be a socialist?

My political discussions in the real world rarely get deep enough for me having to define myself, but in the cases that they do, this question does sometimes come up.

It's actually kind of interesting though. The word 'libertarian' was actually stolen by right-wingers from anarchists. A 19th century anarcho-communist was the first person to label himself a libertarian. Wikipedia tells us that "The word stems from the French word libertaire (synonymous to "anarchist"), and was used in order to evade the ban on anarchist publications, which were banned by law in France".

But regardless of whose word it is, I think the idea of freedom of the individual and capitalism are incompatible. The freedom that everyday libertarian capitalists cherish is the freedom of the slave owner. And I don't mean that in a cute, but don't think about it, type of way, I think the argument for it is pretty good.

People will say "but the slave owner keeps his slaves by force, whereas in capitalism people agree to work". I don't think that is the proper way to look at it. A slave owner gets the benefit of his slave's output by force. But why is force effective? Well, the slave doesn't want bodily injury or death. Similarly, people are forced to give their labor to the capitalist because if they don't, they will die (as they have no means of production of their own). Sure, they can choose which capitalist to work for in many cases, but the outcome is the same-the selling of their labor for the profit of the one who had the deed to the land. Slavery and capitalism are even more equivalent in 3rd world countries, where the master (owner) gets the labor of the slaves (workers) and only has to feed them (pay a wage only high enough to keep them alive).

So that's how I would answer that =)

drunken tune,

but in reality we're not gonna get there any time soon. I'm still not set on it, so I'm still open to other systems that bend that way

No, I agree. This type of society probably has a good deal of time before it will be realized. Maybe in my lifetime, maybe not. However, I think it's also important to remember that events happen quickly, and the world situation can change very dramatically in the blink of an eye. You know, maybe Bush will tinker around in the middle east a little more, which could escalate to an all-out nuclear war devastating most of the planet. In that situation (which could take just weeks) the people of the world would be immediately forced to decide what types of economic and political systems they wanted, since the preexisting structures would probably be destroyed.

Now whether it is feasible at this time, I think it could be, assuming you have the right external events that unite people together. It's happened before, although for a short time, in Spain during the Civil War of 1936.



Thanks for the comments everyone, I appreciate it =)

Mookie said...

Very good delta, I feel the same way. Most people just don't understand what's going on with surplus labour, etc. They like to think capitalism is the laws of supply and demand, or the ability of people to make a profit. I have a little book by Peter Singer I'm reading right now about Marx. He does a really quick summary of Marx' ideas, including those leading up to and influencing his economic theories. I would recommend it to anyone, especially people who know next to nothing about Marx and his ideas (which is about 99.9999% of the US population).

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0192854054/ref=pd_sim_b_4/104-2660190-5106334?ie=UTF8

SH said...

Drunken tune,

I like the ideals that anarchists, for example, are striving to reach. I don't, however, see a coherent and practical way to get there. I would like, again as an example, for us to live in a society where there is no dictatorship of one group of people over the others, be it directly or via market relationships. But is it really possible? The argument that a hierarchy of power will inevitably arise in a society regardless of the starting point seems to be very persuasive to me.

Delta,

I think the idea of freedom of the individual and capitalism are incompatible.

I agree. I also think that freedom is incompatible with socialism. Freedom is an abstract concept that has no root in reality. There are only degrees of interdependency. Perhaps, it is a truism to say this, but I think it shifts any discussions about liberties of people to a different level. Instead of trying to figure out where "real" freedom is to be found we begin to think of what interdependency is more desirable. In either case, a group of people will be dictating the rules to an individual. In one case it would be a small elite who happened to have the power based on their ability to grab and hold as much as they can, in the other case it would be a larger society, perhaps a community of people who happened to live around you. Why is one more preferable to the other? I think this is the question that needs to be answered.

Delta said...

sh,

About the use of the word freedom, and whether it is precise and meaningful enough to be useful in discussions, I've actually written up two paragraphs about it already, the first in defense of the word, the second in agreement with you. So, I'm going back and forth, so I'll leave it at that =)

In either case, a group of people will be dictating the rules to an individual. In one case it would be a small elite who happened to have the power based on their ability to grab and hold as much as they can, in the other case it would be a larger society, perhaps a community of people who happened to live around you. Why is one more preferable to the other? I think this is the question that needs to be answered

Do you not believe that it makes the most sense for a community of individuals to control the means of production that they live and work around? How could this not be preferable to a small group of people controlling all of it and extracting from the labor of others their livelihood based on their "contribution"-letting people use the resources of the earth that they hold on to by force, whether it be personal or in their defense by the State.

And it's not simply that the community would be "dictating the rules to the individual", because the individual is part of that community, and they should have a say in the matter to the extent that they are affected by it. So if the issue solely concerns themselves, then they are allowed to do whatever they want. If they want to claim all the farmland (for example) as their own however, then that negatively affects others, and so they are not "free" to do that. But why should someone desire this? The ownership of property that you don't plan on working is only beneficial to the owner if he intends to benefit from the labor of others and deprive them of their right to work for themselves.

The argument that a hierarchy of power will inevitably arise in a society regardless of the starting point seems to be very persuasive to me

There will probably always be hierarchies on a small scale, but we owe it to ourselves to free ourselves from blatant hierarchial structures in our economic and political lives. If people had the kind of freedom (there I go again) that we're talking about, I think the idea is that people would appreciate it and would be willing to fight to defend it.

SH said...

Do you not believe that it makes the most sense for a community of individuals to control the means of production that they live and work around?

It depends on the community I guess. This is a similar question to "Is pure/direct democracy good for us?" On one hand, yes. On the other hand, imagine that everything is determined by the pure majority vote right now. Think, for example, of the question of religion. If all the people of US would vote today on the separation of church and state we would probably lose that protection, because majority thinks that Christianity should be the official doctrine.

So is it good for a community to make all the economic decisions? I really want to say yes, but I'm afraid it depends on who are the members of the community. The reason I am hesitant to commit to your position is that I saw with my own eyes what can happen when a bunch of people being put in charge of things that they know nothing about.

I am torn between these two views. I want to believe that community of individuals controlling the means of production is a good idea but I am not really convinced that in practice it would work for the best of that community or individuals within the community.

I am not arguing for validity of the corporate system. I am just not sure the alternative is better. I can see big holes in what I am saying so I guess take it as if I am playing a "bad' devil's advocate here. :-)

Delta said...

This is a similar question to "Is pure/direct democracy good for us?" On one hand, yes. On the other hand, imagine that everything is determined by the pure majority vote right now. Think, for example, of the question of religion. If all the people of US would vote today on the separation of church and state we would probably lose that protection, because majority thinks that Christianity should be the official doctrine

Yeah, a popular phrase is the "tyranny of the majority". It seems that the idea behind it is that the average person is stupid. And while looking around the country I understand why it can seem easy to believe that, I don't think it's necessarily true. I think a lot of "stupidity" comes from misinformation. Most children in today's world grow up learning their particular brand of religion, end up going to schools that do not teach them history that puts their situation in better perspective, and when they grow up watch news programming that is either reporting on stories like Paris Hilton or when it covers real issues, it usually is very biased and offers no critical examination of the issues. Forget religion for a second, I'll come back to that. But imagine how different the world would be if they read Howard Zinn's book in history class and didn't listen to corporate news for their information?

But regardless, let's assume that the average person is helplessly stupid. Then what we might want would be for the decisions of the community to be made by some intelligent group of people that had the interests of the people at heart. The current system certainly doesn't give us this. In capitalist countries it's the rich who make decisions, and most wealth is inherited, not earned through ingenuity, so the "deciders" like Bush are certainly not more intelligent that the average American. And because it is the wealthy who control both the political and economic spheres, they are used to looking at things through the perspective of maximizing profit, not caring for the community.

Okay, back to religion. I agree with you that a very religious society could not have direct democracy. Most mainstream religions are racist, sexist, and authoritarian, and that certainly doesn't mesh well with a democracy. However, is it not possible that a direct democracy would make people feel more empowered over their own lives? Might they not need to pray to an invisible sky daddy to get what they want, since they actually have the power to change their own lives for the better? In addition, any sort of radical change in the economy and government structure will likely require a revolution. Remember all the strikers killed in Zinn's book, when all they wanted was better working conditions? Now imagine they wanted to take the whole factory and get rid of the current government. This revolution (if it is to be successful) will take a great deal of cooperation and relative unity between people who are racially and religiously different. Perhaps this feeling being in a group, of being "part of something greater than oneself", will feel the emotional void that some people fill today with religion. In addition, the Church often has taken the side of the government and the capitalists in past revolutions (the Church working with Franco's fascist forces in Spain for example) and so the Church may be seen as an enemy by many people post-revolution.

take it as if I am playing a "bad' devil's advocate here

In the group of graduate students that I work with, the devil's advocate of the group is often the one who prevents us from doing a 3-page calculation based on an initial assumption that is incorrect. So I see nothing wrong with being one =)

bernarda said...

mookie, the book by Peter Singer sounds interesting. You might like to look up Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

Do a google search on "proudhon and marx" to see the opposing sides.

As for wikipedia, "For Proudhon, the only legitimate source of property is labor. What one produces is his property and anything beyond that is not. He can be considered a libertarian socialist, since he advocated worker self-management and argued against capitalist ownership of the means of production.

However, he rejected the ownership of the products of labor by society, arguing that while "property in product [...] does not carry with it property in production [...] The right to product is exclusive [...] the right to means is common" [citation needed] and applied this to the land ("the land is [...] a common thing") and workplaces ("all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor").

Proudhon had many arguments against entitlement to land and capital, including reasons based on morality, economics, politics, and individual liberty. One such argument was that it enabled profit, which in turn led to social instability and war by creating cycles of debt that eventually overcame the capacity of labor to pay them off.

Another was that it produced "despotism" and turned workers into wage workers subject to the authority of a boss."

bernarda said...

I forgot two mention two communites as well. These are based on the behaviorist theories of BF Skinner in his book "Walden 2"

http://www.loshorcones.org.mx/

http://www.twinoaks.org/

Drunken Tune said...

I love listening to you guys talk. There's some form of intelligence present in the writing... like... like... we actually have educated ourselves in spite of a large system of repression, and that we have an innate desire to learn... The whole world isn't going to shit when there's pages like this. And college.

Only most of it.

I'd do a little name-throwing of my own, but you guys have covered a good deal already. Besides, I'm just basking in the glow for a bit. bernarda, mookie, sh, delta: you guys rock.

Anonymous said...

bernarda,

I read some Proudhon in high school. I recommended to delta what he is reading now (see the main page). But I do appreciate your input. I liked ideas because while Marx gave the worker's movement some legitimacy with the ideas, he fell far short of focusing on the ideals after that. That's why I have to fill in the rest with the anarcho side of it.

I am also familiar with Walden 2 and the communities inspired by the book. I think it is interesting to note that the Twin Oaks people abandoned his ideas almost immediately. "Looks good on paper" syndrome, I suppose. I know they also have a tofu factory, and they make fresh bread every morning.

BF Skinner was a cool dude. For all his cold scientist sterility and less-than-crowd-pleasing sentiments ("free will is an illusion"), he was whole-heartedly for developing humans to reach their fullest potential. He was the good guy of the behaviourists, whereas Watson sold out to advertising companies, and now we have the modern consumerist culture.


drunken tune,

Such praise merely increases the glow coming off of me! Awesome feedback loop. :-)

-mookie