Socialism

Socialism is about promoting the equitable distribution of resources and services in a society, but it became a dirty word in the 20th century. It is almost inescapably associated with the rise of fascism, which is the extreme authoritarianism that is intolerant of dissenting views on the ideals of socialism. I have only started to understand the connection when I recalled this quote, often misattributed to Winston Churchill:

“If you are not a socialist before age of 20, you have no heart. If you are still a socialist by age of 30, you have no head.”

I think this saying more or less corroborates my own attitude over the years. Before the age of 20, I owned no properties. I believed in the common good, but perhaps in the deepest subconscious I felt entitled to benefits that I didn't have. It was during a time of the dot-com bubble where many things on the Internet are obtainable for free either illegally (Napster, Limewire) or advertisement sponsored, based on a clearly unsustainable business model. It's also during this time that free open source software (FOSS) had came to dominate the technology scene. Before then, the computer magazines were all about Windows. These days they are all about Linux.

In a sense, the FOSS movement is very socialist, and it was revolutionary in the sense that it became the foundational building block of a lot of technology that people have been using on a daily basis. I think the real societal benefit of open source ecosystem is that it enabled many large corporations (Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel), each with their own divergent business interests, to jointly work on a project and contribute their effort to the public. Small startups get a head-start on bringing their new ideas faster to market. This way everyone gets to further their own business interests as well as furthering the common good. It realized the fullest potential of technology where O(1) amount of work is amortized away over infinite uses, so it achieved great economy of scale. It's a win-win situation.

One of FOSS early proponents, Richard Stallman formerly of the Free Software Foundation, had a slight fascist tendency. In conferences, he would go around harassing people for using proprietary technology because they were working on a Windows or a Mac laptop. For a while, Stallman lived in his office at MIT where he was employed, but this is not the lifestyle of choice for many. Fortunately, even though many respected his pioneering insights and contributions to free software, few followed his approach.

Socialism is only sustainable when it is also allowing public virtues to emerge from private vices (see The Fable of the Bees). You can incentivize people but not force them against their will. But the temptation of socialism is demonizing everyone else who do not buy-in to the same ideals. After all, those who do not praise good virtues must be evil, and we think that it is okay to denounce and curse evil. We feel justified and self-righteous to abuse the evil ones. Under the fascism regime, everyone disagreeing with the idealism become criminals and are abused as such. Idealism is abused by hypocrites so they can gain loyalty and secure their power by discrediting their political enemies. But fascism is not a problem unique to socialists. Capitalist for-profit private prisons suffer more prisoner abuses. In a capitalist economy, criminal background check before employment continues to penalize criminals long after they served their terms.

I once caught a glimpse of fascism at a company whose new CEO and CFO leadership in 2015 was cutting employee benefits by giving them away as charitable donations. The employees who were concerned about this being the precursor of more drastic measures to come are labeled as “dissident” “entitled” and “spoiled” which distracted from discussing the direction the company is heading. The same company later went on a firing spree: they fired an employee who opposed diversity, but later also fired several employees who petitioned for more diversity and equity, as well as employees who raised ethical and transparency concerns for the company's products. Fearing that their employees would unionize, they hired an outside consultancy who specializes in disrupting unionization. Ironically, the company thrives on a public image that is progressive even though anything that challenges the authority of its leadership is seen as a vice.

Intolerance is the gateway drug to fascism, but it is often misunderstood. Merely expressing a value does not make you intolerant, but intolerance is the harm that you feel justified to render onto others who disagree with your values. Many are misled to believe that Christians are intolerant, but there is something to be said about God's grace through Christ. Intolerance was the attitude exhibited by the disciples James and John when they were rejected by the Samaritans, but Jesus rebuked them, saying:

“You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”––Luke 9:55-56 (NKJV).

There are also direct accounts where Jesus, who often refers to himself as Son of Man, proclaims he did not come to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17, John 12:47). But you can judge and reject value disagreement without being intolerant. The Christian value is very clear: Jesus himself clearly incentivizes helping those in need (see the Parable of Sheep and Goats). It is also written in the scripture:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” –– 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NIV).

Although Christians have a strong sense of right and wrong, they should be (in theory at least) the most tolerant for understanding that they are themselves sinners called by Christ when Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17, also Luke 5:31).

Socialism had gone wrong when it borrowed the idealism to “go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor” (Matthew 19:21) from the teaching of Christ but neglected the grace and tolerance of Christ (“if you want to be perfect”). I'm mostly concerned with the destabilization of society when people lose self-interest under socialism, as well as the rise of fascism when socialists demonize anyone who wants to retain self-interest. As I became older, I began to understand the political abuses made possible by idealism and its paradoxical destabilizing effect on the society, supposedly to protect my own self-interest, but I am also willing to protect the self-interest of others by extending the grace and tolerance of Christ to them. Intolerance is a mistake that both capitalists and socialists are prone to making, so it is something for all to consider.