Facebook has been my best friend lately, as I’ve begun to use it less as a procrastination tool and more as a way to let my friends know what I’m reading and what I think about it. It’s been amazing to develop my digital personality into an outspoken advocate, even when in real life I’m a lot more tentative.
The following is excerpted (emphasis mine) from a discussion that ensued on my facebook wall after I posted this image with the sarcastic message “Socialists, all of them!” At first I felt it was obvious what I thought about it and what other should think about it—but the discussion brought out more complicated issues and now I want to gather more opinions on the matter. Am I really a socialist? Do I just think this is a no-brainer because of my last two years drinking the kool-aid? Or am I being silly and idealist?
HM3: holy crap Canada
Me: I had no idea we didn’t require paid maternity leave!
HM3: Military ladies get it, never realized the rest of America wasn’t on board :/
Dude from College: Were I a business owner, the last thing I would want to do is pay somebody to not work.
Me: Good thing you’re not a business owner then.
Dude from College: Good thing YOU’RE not.
Me: Yeah, we wouldn’t want women to be mothers AND be financially stable. Commies asking for too much.
Dude from College: Lots of ways to do that without forcing a business to take a loss. Somebody is suffering so that mother can have her paid leave – the money must come from somewhere. Is that person or their desires less valuable? Are they any less deserving of fairness and just compensation for their labor? And if so, how can you justify taking from them to give to somebody else?
Teddy: Lulz. Somebody misread the infographic
Teddy: Rather, it’s a good thing maternity leave isn’t paid for by the company owners. It’s a federally-subsidized institution, just like food stamps. Making maternity leave the responsibility of the employer would be a sure fire way to zap every last fertile uterus directly out of the workforce, wouldn’t it?
Dude from College: And where does the government get money to subsidize such programs? Taxes. On the rich, on the poor, it doesn’t matter. The point isn’t where the money comes from, it is that it must come from somewhere. Somebody out there is suffering so that mother can have her paid leave.
Teddy: And Jesus, doesn’t it count as suffering to not be able to afford food and shelter for your newborn child?
Teddy: But k’now what? Show me a Norwegian who feels that their taxes are making them suffer, and I’ll mail you five bucks.
Dude from College: I’m sure the newsfeed is tired of this. I don’t pretend to judge what is suffering from one man to the next, or how much a person can endure. It’s possible there are mother’s who care less about feeding their children than they do about the money they could save by not doing it, and while that kind of person is certainly a monster by my standards, I wouldn’t think to make their existence a cornerstone of my argument.
It is not right to inflict harm on some to lessen harm on another, to any degree, no matter how small.
Me: Dude. The point is that no matter how you define suffering, the choice between staying home with your new baby and being able to make ends meet isn’t a choice anyone should have to make. And—babies are important! It kind of makes sense to pay taxes for the wellbeing of society’s children, doesn’t it?
Teddy: Like I said, show me a Norwegian who is unwilling to shoulder the burden of higher taxes. Y’know they have free health care there? Free!! What do you reckon even the very poorest people would rather give up? Sales tax? Or free health care?
Teddy: Honestly, I think the confusion you’re struggling with is the fact that not all families work like yours. Not all mothers have a father who can or will provide when the mother is physically unable to work. In these cases, it would cause indescribable suffering to NOT provide some social service to these women. More so, I posit, than the average taxpayer.
Dude from College: No. My family life has very little to do with my convictions and I’ll thank you to leave it out of any discussion.
I agree with your first point. Which is why I fully support women’s right to choose when to have a family (though I don’t support a government funded “right to choose”, see a pattern?). It doesn’t make sense to pay taxes for “society’s children” because society has no children (thank god). Individuals have children. And I’ll pay for mine and expect nobody else to help.
What you need to understand is that personally, I don’t disagree with the way you feel. I sympathize with the mother, and were she a friend of mine and she needed help I’d have dinner with her and her little one as often as she’d have me, to save her that one small expense. I love children, I teach pre-school, and I’d probably bring over some diapers or a toy now and then. And selfishly, I relish the idea of their kid someday calling me uncle. That’s the kind of person I am.
What I wouldn’t do is demand that others do the same. I especially wouldn’t make it law, which is the same as violently forcing them (don’t disagree – what happens if you break a law?).
Degree of suffering makes no matter. We could go in endless circles talking about what ifs, but my answer will always be the same. It is never right to force a person to shoulder a burden. Choose to shoulder it, that is noble and respectable (help a friend, donate to charity, etc). But do not demand that others do as well. Any act when done through government made law, no matter how kindly meant, takes away that freedom of choice from somebody. No person has a RIGHT to a penny or a moment of my life – though I often choose to give them.
Teddy: My *feelings* have very little to do with this discussion, and I’ll thank *you* to leave them out of any discussion.
I’m speaking from a strictly utilitarian point of view: Collective cost vs. Collective gain. Find me an individual who DOES pay those taxes, who would rather NOT have the collective gain of those taxes, and I’ll back down.
Until then, bro, if we don’t collectively help that unwed, unprovided-for mother, then who will?
Hot Pants: Studies have shown that levels of inequality are directly associated with societal welfare. The longer we continue this “don’t make me help them” the farther down this dark and dangerous path we go and it is only hurting our country in nearly every way (direct links to societal life expectancy, crime rates, social mobility, educational achievement, on and on and on).
Side-note. It is in the best *long term* interest of even that business to give the mother the time off in that much success of a child is determined within the womb and first year of life. If that child isn’t taken care of it is likely to get sick more often and to have more problems in school, etc. This makes the mother less productive if this happens
Also. This is not fair that only families that make enough money to afford the time off get to have it.
Dude from College: This will be long.
Substitute thoughts/opinion/ideas for feelings, I meant nothing by it other than “the things you’ve been saying.” This is different than saying I don’t get it because I come from a good family. I’ve also had the same education as Koolaid, but you don’t call that into question (when it should have led me to believe the opposite of what I do).
I’ve had this discussion dozens of times and people never address what I’m saying, or choose instead to argue a different point. It’s not your fault, I’m not being clear. I need to change the way I present my case.
So here it is: The core issue I’m concerned with is freedom VS. compulsion. This is at the core of every idea we’ve discussed.
To me, this is not a discussion about what is best for society. It is not a discussion about what is best for the mother or who will help her. Those are all ancillary issues, which are resolved (or the result of further discussion discovered immediately) by addressing the core issue.
To make it a question, the discussion is about “Is it right to force a person to do the right thing?” “Right” is of course subjective (right by what standard? By what code?). So let’s say “Is it right to force a person?”
My answer is, of course, “No.” Provided that those things a person does do not come at the expense of somebody else. Murder is not OK and of course it’s right and proper to use force to prevent a murder or apprehend a murderer, as an extreme example of what constitutes “at somebody else’s expense.”
Helping somebody, benevolence, is a praiseworthy attribute. But benevolence by its very nature is a free act. You cannot have forced benevolence – it ceases to be what it is and becomes something else. People can only be benevolent, can only act in a truly caring way, when they are not forced. My view of society is largely positive – people tend to take care of the ones they care about. There are people who don’t, but a person who chooses not to help is *causing* no harm, and therefore is within their rights and should not be forced to behave differently.
Taxes are a form of force. Yes of course there are necessary taxes (military, police, and courts for example – imagine private courts and police competing, ridiculous). So, the question then becomes, is it right to tax (force) in order to help somebody? As tax is a form of force, and i am against the use of violent force for any reason not explained above, of course I say it is wrong to tax.
There are myriad other ways to take care of a person in need. In this discussion you all wish to protect the “rights” of the mother, but I say she has no right to my money or my time. She may ask for it, and I am free to accept or decline. That is proper. I ask though, what about the rights of the person who would choose not to help? Do they cease to own even a small portion of their wealth because somebody else needs it? I’m thirsty, so do you cease to own the water you bought and paid for because I need it? If you do not cease to own it, then the forced seizure of it is nothing short of theft – and theft is theft whether its a penny or a million dollars.
Let me be clear. I personally agree with every idea you’ve laid out. What we are discussing is whether or not the use of force is proper in these contexts. My position is that it is not, to any degree whatsoever.
Me: Okay, but there’s a double standard there. Those “necessary” taxes are still forced upon people just as violently. You don’t mean it to, but your argument of freedom vs. compulsion sounds like you don’t want laws or taxes to force anyone to do anything at all.
We have taxes because we’re collectively responsible for things that we collectively benefit from. Everyone benefits from some degree from the military keeping them safe, and even if they personally don’t believe a military should exist at all, they’re violently forced to support it. And women from all races and social classes get pregnant–but the current structure means that only mothers who can afford to lose the pay can stay home and nurture their babies the way they need to.
I really want you to see that in this country, these very American ideas of “freedom” and extreme individuality only benefit the privileged.
Dude from College: I’ve been busy. But do read on. You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into your position and philosophy and it shows.
You’re absolutely right that some government is necessary, and in order to fund that government taxes must be collected. Being pro-freedom doesn’t mean anti-government or pro-anarchy. I listed the three proper functions of government above, and you’re absolutely right that we need a military even if some people don’t like it. There is no double standard there. Military is an essential government function (we can’t have private armies running around competing for turf and business). Police are an essential government function. Courts are an essential government function. These things require funding, and yes we all benefit from them.
Funding of maternal leave is not an essential government function.
I don’t understand why freedom is in quotes, but it is a very American idea, and it’s one of the reasons America is the greatest nation on the Earth (though we’re slipping precipitously). Extreme is a dirty word that is often meant to mean crazy, or that to be “less” of whatever you’re an “extremist” for is somehow always better. Strong individuality is better, and it doesn’t benefit only the privileged. Neither does freedom. I’d be interested to hear what you mean by those statements. Explain how taking care of yourself (and not at the expense of somebody else – stealing somebody’s fortune to “take care of yourself” is not what I’m talking about) ever harmed anyone, or how it only ever benefited the wealthy.
To explain myself, if every person in the country were a strong individual, who expected to work for what they want and be given what they’re owed, who expected to take care of themselves and didn’t *expect* anybody else to help them (this doesn’t mean they couldn’t/wouldn’t accept help that was freely offered, or that they couldn’t/wouldn’t desire help), then strong individuality would absolutely benefit every person, wealthy or otherwise. Only in such a case could you ever see a true “loser” in life, somebody who tried their hardest, did everything they could and still failed. And some people would. Every teacher knows you can’t save them all, no matter how hard you try. Whatever the system, there will be people who fail. The existence of people who might slip through the cracks is no basis on which to form policy to govern a nation.
There are people who are genuinely incapable of helping themselves through no fault of their own – the insane, crippled, elderly, etc. There is nothing wrong with desiring to help these people, nor with doing what you can to aid them. This is something I would never argue against. Private charity, church organizations, family, friends – all of this is the proper way to give aid. Not through government. Not through the seizure of wealth from the “haves” to give to the “have nots”. They do not gain a *right* to a moment of a person’s life (and money is the product of those moments used working) by virtue of their inability to do for themselves.
Please do not mistake my meaning as people often do. I am not a heartless person who feels nothing for a person in need, who wants to sit on a pile of money and damn anybody who stretches their hand out asking for something from me. I only desire the right to choose who and how much I will give to.
Teddy: I’m curious what your criteria are for what constitutes a necessary social service, and what constitutes an unnecessary one. If only military and law-enforcement organizations are necessary, then what’s your opinion on public schools?
Dude from College: Social services in general are unnecessary. The private sector can handle almost anything better and cheaper. You’re definitely grasping what I’m saying, so I think you can guess where I stand on public schooling. No, I’m not in favor of public school. As an interesting side note, I just noticed that the phrase “private school” has the connotation of not only money, but better education.
Teddy: If social services are generally unnecessary, what’s so ridiculous about the idea of private courts and police forces?
Are you honestly saying that public school educates kids less well BECAUSE it’s a social service? Public schools have few resources BECAUSE they’re funded by taxes?? Please do unpack that statement. I’d love to hear why you’re “not in favor of public school.”
Lemme guess: Big Ayn Rand fan?
Dude from College: Of course I’m a fan. She was a brilliant author and philosopher. I’m pleased you’re aware of her.
Private enterprises compete with one another. You can’t have two private courts competing to either put away more criminals or let more people off. You’d just shop around for the court that wouldn’t convict as a defense lawyer, and the one that would as a prosecutor. I’ve heard it said that people can do that anyway, but i don’t know anything about that. Individual corruption is a separate issue.
As for police, a private police force would be no better than a gang. One police force comes to arrest you, so you call the other one to defend you. Same with private armies.
What I was saying was, it’s interesting that the term “private school” tends to connote better education. At least it does for me and the people I grew up with, maybe it’s different where you’re from. There are good public schools and bad ones. Same with private. They’re as diverse as the teachers who staff them. I make no argument about what makes a quality education or how that happens, that’s a separate issue as well.
But I’m not in favor of public schools because they require public funding and they’re compulsory. If I don’t have children, I may not wish to pay for somebody else’s kids to go to school. That ought to be my right – to choose not to take part, to be able to opt out. Of course if I did, I wouldn’t get the benefit of sending my kid to that school, which is proper. Also, as a student, I may not wish to go to school. For whatever reason. That decision should be left up to the student and their parents/guardians. I honestly don’t know to what extent school is compulsory, though I heard in the news recently of an honor student being sentenced to a night in jail because she skipped school once. That’s wrong.
Me: Y our condescension and your survival-of-the-fittest ideals show that you know nothing of privilege and oppression.
We may have gone to the same college, but we unfortunately we definitely did not receive the same education.
Hot Pants: I understand where you come from. I was an economics major and so know all about the theory behind what you are talking about. The fact is, though, that the free market system does not work for certain types of products such as health (thus the reason why we have the current debate) and education. Furthermore, the free market system lies on the fact that everyone has 100% information and influence in the system but this is not true in the current system. It is a reality that we are at such a point of inequality that the American Dream is more of a reality in any other OECD country. Our system allows the rich to buy influence, which inherently keeps others at a disadvantage.
Further, it is governments right (and really responsibility) to coordinate and provide things that generate the public good… the classic example is the lighthouse free rider system, but I would also posit that education is the same in that more educated citizens not only can contribute more to GDP but also make them better functioning citizens. However, if we leave it to a free market system my students would not be able to have an education system at all.
Hot Pants: http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html A must watch to give this conversation a different perspective
Teddy: “Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born – nothing more!”
–Pierre Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro
Dude from College: Jake, the current system isn’t what I’m talking about (with the exception of being in favor of not having government required maternal leave). The current system is born of philosophy just like yours – ideas that you don’t own your own wealth or your own life, and a politician has the right to dictate what you do and how you live (as long as it’s in the interest of the greater good). And of course nobody has 100% influence, that has never been a point I’ve made. People don’t have 100% influence in any democracy. I would ask you, what is the public good? You’ve got a strong position on the purpose of government, but the good you would have doesn’t benefit me – am I not the public? In regard to the “free market” this is old information and question the source all you will but, “According to the Office of the Federal Register, in 1998, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the official listing of all regulations in effect, contained a total of 134,723 pages in 201 volumes that claimed 19 feet of shelf space. In 1970, the CFR totaled only 54,834 pages.” I don’t see how this is free market, and that was in 1998 from which time we’ve become markedly less free. http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/a/fedregulations_2.htm
It’s interesting to watch the education system from a different perspective. In South Korea, where I live, there is a massive interest in education. As a result of the belief that more education guarantees success, private academies catering to every discipline have sprung up all over the country. They’re in a state of fierce competition, and schools regularly close and open all over the place. Far from no longer having an option, kids from a closed school just go next door to the one that’s still open. There are higher class versions, and lower class versions. Class sizes are typically 12 students or less. I would posit that, given no option for public education (which isn’t what I’m saying, I say permit people to opt in or out, if you’re in you pay your share, if you’re out you don’t get to use it) or a limited one, private institutions and charity institutions would pop up all over. Imagine a volunteer school with a premade curriculum and all lesson planning done, that asked community volunteers to teach what hours they’re able. Yes you’d have lots of circulation of teachers, but the quality of the education would be largly uniform due to the standardized, pre-made curriculum. You could ask for donations, appeal to advertisers, do any of a number of things in order to pay for things like classroom space, heat and electricity. Does such a thing exist? Probably not. is it possible? Absolutely.
I’ll check the video when I’m able. Work.
There is no condescension here. Read into it whatever tone you like, but I enjoy these discussions and take the time to write and rewrite them until I’ve said what I meant. I deliberately changed my writing from using the word privilege because it implies that all wealth comes from birth and social position – which is what Lauren seems to be implying with her quote. This is false.
Me: Sorry if I misread you– “pleased you’ve heard of her” and “you’re definitely grasping what I’m saying” came across as condescending whether you meant them to or not.
I wonder, though, whether you’d shy away from the word “privilege” if you were born a different race or gender.
“Public good” is having a society of people who have received proper prenatal care, education, access to opportunities, etc. You may not be pregnant or living in poverty, but you’re not an island. You are part of the public, and things like lowering crime rates or dropout rates affect your life too.
As for education–I think this might come down to whether or not you believe everyone has an absolute right to a quality education (emphasis on ‘quality’; not volunteer, not rotating teachers–because oh my goodness a curriculum does not an education make!–but a legit education in good schools). If you don’t, then you settle for things like “higher class versions and lower class versions.” The rich stay rich, and the poor stay poor. Whenever you have time to see the video posted, notice–the USA has the LOWEST social mobility of all the countries listed. As much as we like to tell ourselves myths about bootstraps and pretend privilege doesn’t matter, the single greatest predictor of academic achievement is your zip code, not hard work or dedication.
Dude from College: in regard to being born a different color or gender. I think it’s very possible to have a similar experience (racially at least) by being in a different culture. South Korea is a very homogeneous culture, and being white has made me an extreme minority. I get stared at, children see me and gawk and wonder why I look so different, people hand me English menus instead of Korean (though i read Korean very well), among other things. Racism is also alive and well in South Korea, since it’s hardly even a concept here. It’s no pre-civil rights slave state, to be sure, but I’ve spent the last year and a half living similar to a lower income black person in Washington or Oregon (I would imagine, of course I can’t be certain). Having said that, I don’t question my use of privilege, nor do I believe I would in another situation.
Public good – You’re right that things like lower crime rates affect me too, and I would turn it back on you. I’m being affected by taxation as well, which I would consider not good. Even if that means my neighbor can afford healthcare, his good is at the expense of my good. Does my concept of good have less value than his? We’re part of the same public, a public you would strive to make equal (yes?) so if we’re equal then how can you give him what he needs by taking what I need away from me? Lots of people benefit from free health care, and lots of people are hurt by higher taxes (lets not argue degree, it’s unimportant). You could say that healthcare is a life service, and money is just money, and I would say that money is life. You require it to live, you spend your days earning it, so it is the physical representation of your moments of life that permit you to exchange with other men. But if that’s still not satisfying, it still is not right to steal from one person in order to give to another, whatever it is that you steal.
Education. I agree a curriculum doesn’t necessarily make for a good education, it was just an off the top of my head idea that could be done in order to create a free school in the absence of a public option. You’re going to have higher and lower class everything, from food to clothes to education. But a good student will learn with a piece of chalk and a slate if they’re interested in learning. I don’t wish to move into another area of debate, but just to be clear, if people were able to spend more time studying the things they like rather than spending time on a curriculum chosen by some politician, I think we’d move more in a direction you’d approve of (well rounded students be damned, give me interested specialists).
If your zip code is preventing you from succeeding, move. That’s a gross over simplification, I know, but there are always options. Culture and fear are more of a problem than lack of money (in my opinion). Don’t take this to mean somebody’s traditions are holding them back and they should “jus’ be more ‘murican”, but if you grow up in a gang neighborhood and you’re more worried about what your friends think of you than you are about taking an opportunity to join the military or go to college – that’s a problem that handing out social programs isn’t going to solve.
For clarity’s sake, I’m going to list the points I believe you’re trying to make above:
1. Being white in Korea is similar to being black in Washington or Oregon
2. You don’t question your use of privilege, nor do you believe you would in another situation
3. Your tax money has the same value that basic necessities have to those in poverty.
4. It is not right to steal from one person in order to give to another, whatever it is that you steal.
5. a good student will learn with a piece of chalk and a slate if they’re interested in learning.
6. people should spend more time studying the things they like rather than spending time on a curriculum chosen by politicians
7. Poor families aren’t moving out of poor neighborhoods because they’re worried what their friends think of them
I hope those somewhat resemble what you were going for.
I find no issue with #5 or #6 whatsoever. I didn’t quite see those points in your comment above; thanks for clarifying. And I’m not sure what you mean by #2. Does this mean you acknowledge you have privilege? Or that it’s fine for you to use privilege to your advantage?
And now the meat.
#1: Racism is not the same as prejudice. Racism is “power plus prejudice.” Being stared at or given the wrong menu is not similar to being systematically misrepresented in mass media, being disproportionately incarcerated, or having fewer educational opportunities nation-wide. My suggestion is that if you were born a different race or gender, perhaps you would understand that privilege goes much, much deeper than menus and gawking.
No, the real markers of oppression are things like… housing! #7: Don’t you think if my students COULD move to a better neighborhood with a better school, they WOULD? Do you really believe that they’re not “taking the opportunity” to go to college because of what their friends think of them? How dare you. My students’ parents care deeply about their children and will do absolutely anything in their power to get them to college–but some of them don’t have enough money to FEED THEIR CHILDREN, let alone find a house in a rich white neighborhood with a good school. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about assuming things because of privilege. The ability to just up and move is something you’re lucky to have. Teach my kids for a while and you’ll stop assuming everyone has it.
Which brings us to #3 and #4: Your view of what is right and fair is skewed because you’re not acknowledging your privilege. Here’s one way to look at it: We have the responsibility to try set up a society that will allow all of its citizens to thrive. When we wrtongly hold down and oppress certain groups, we need to set up structures that attempt to make up for these wrongs. Think of it as “giving back” a miniscule portion of our vast racial and social privilege that we didn’t deserve in the first place.