Sunday, October 18, 2009

Where do these people get this stuff?

I mentioned in a comment to this Webster's entry Jack Hampton's blatantly naked, false portrayal of the Mayflower Compact as America's first and failed attempt at socialism. I had determined, at that point and after some reflection, that it wasn't worth pursuing with Mr. Hampton a series of posts to correct him on his mistake, but changed my mind at length.


Jack Hampton wrote:

By the way the first experiment in socialism in this country came with the Pilgrims it was called the Mayflower Compact. It failed miserably.

Well, the Pilgrims did try socialism, and it did fail miserably as you say. But we don’t call that the Mayflower Compact. Or at least I don’t call it that.

Now, I don't think I was being disrespectful in the way that I challenged Hampton's false assertions about the Mayflower Compact. In point of fact, I was consciously doing my very best not to be disrespectful towards Mr. Hampton, albeit I did find his depiction of the Mayflower Compact to be ignorant at best, stupid at worst. But then again, given his uncanny ability to smell out a real racist 5,280 words off as demonstrated in his succinct, to-the-point reply to Lawrence Auster's post in the thread, what would make me think this uncannily sensitive nose of his wouldn't also pick up on the scent of the real motives beneath my 'respectful' challenge of his assertions on this particular point as well, notwithstanding my attempt to cover it up? Anyway, here is Mr. Hampton's wise-*ss reply to my critique of his comment:

That was what it was called. I guess you can call it a baseball game if you wish.

Well, I guess I had that one a-comin'. Nonetheless I replied in actual hopes of getting an answer:

No it isn’t what it was called. Who told you that?

And that's the question that I'd like to have answered -- where do these people get this stuff?

Well, after making my usual rounds this morning I got to thinking about it again and decided to pursue the question a bit further by Googling the search words "Mayflower Compact, America's first attempt at socialism." Below is a pertinent sampling of what came up:

zbdent (1000+ posts) Fri Feb-24-06 03:27 PM
Original message
Were you aware that the Pilgrims who died did so due to Socialism?
And not disease, nor the fact that a lack of good medical treatment, nor the fact that they landed in the Northeast at the early stages of winter and not being able to grow crops? (I've also heard about how they could have lived high on the hog if they didn't think that shellfish was evil - lobster, you know . . .)

This had the misfortune to print simultaneously in three Akron papers on Thanksgiving day, 2004 (Akron Beacon Journal, West Side Leader, and the Montrose Sun). Pretty much a "trifecta" . . . and all three papers printed it word-for-word, and had the exact same author.

Here's the drivel (which really dumbs things down to make a rightie point):

"The story of Thanksgiving

This year, let's try to get the Thanksgiving story right. The Pilgrim fathers came to the New World so that they could be free to practice their religion the way they wanted to and to force everyone else to practice it that way, too. Before establishing their colony, they met together and signed the infamous Mayflower Compact, in which they pledged to work together, build common housing, till common fields, share alike in the resulting crops.

Not surprisingly, they found that this primitive form of socialism didn't work in practice. All were willing -- eager, even -- to share the output; but few were willing to work much for the benefit of others. Consequently, not much was produced, and all they shared were shortages and suffering. In fact, almost half of them died the first year from malnutrition and related illnesses.

Those who survived finally wised up, abandoned socialism and decided to let each family own and till its own fields and keep its own produce. This switch to a basically free-enterprise system paid off, and the resulting abundant harvests produced the country's first agricultural surplus. Then -- and only then -- they gathered together and celebrated the first Thanksgiving.

So let us not forget what this day really represents: a time to give thanks not only for the bountiful plenty that we enjoy; but also for the free-enterprise/free-market socioeconomic system that makes it possible."

We see in the first paragraph of the alleged article, allegedly printed in three separate Akron newspapers, Jack Hampton's understanding of what the Mayflower Compact was and what it entailed. Namely that it is responsible for the establishment of a tried-and-failed, and ultimately abandoned socialist system in Plymouth Colony. Indeed, the author of the alleged article goes further than Jack Hampton, attributing to the "infamous" Mayflower Compact these specific agreements between the signers -- that they pledged [therein] to work together, to build common housing, to till common fields, and to share alike in their resulting productions.

Methinks that Jack Hampton and the author of the article above would both do well to actually read the Mayflower Compact, rather than to rely on what they've gathered on the subject from various blogs and websites on the internet, then to arrogantly and dogmatically reverberate it as if it were indisputable documented fact. In which case, by the way, such people really do deserve, in my opinion, to be taken to the proverbial woodshed where they ought to, in a sane and just world, receive a good and thorough lashing for their apparent disdain of independent scholarship. After all, if there are no negative consequences for ill behavior, the behavior itself tends to get worse, not better.

Nonetheless, as I was reading the comments submitted under the post I was pleasantly surprised (pleasantly surprised because Democratic Underground is a far left message board, if you didn't already know it) to read a more accurate accounting in comment no. 17. To wit:

The Mayflower Compact did not create a socialist arrangement, it was a very short document for quasi-democratic rule, and was made on the voyage [TM: actually it wasn't made "on the voyage", which can only be taken to mean somewhere between Great Britian and the Eastern shores of America out in the middle of the Atlantic where the relatively healthy among them were preoccupied with taking care of the sick, and of generally trying to keep the Mayflower afloat] because of already existing factionlism. The agreement that made them "share" was the corporate contract with their financers, a joint stock company of Merchant Adventurers(in the original agreement most were not colonists), who were to supply the cost of their trip and manufactored needs, with payment from the colonists of all their work and specific trade goods, for seven year, at which time the corporate property would be divided. Many of the persons had no money to put up as part of this corporatist arrangment, so they were in fact signed indentured servants agreements for the seven years. Essentially this was originally a kind of Plantation organization, which the indentured servants didn't like much. This is where much of the strife and contention came from, and essentially they ended up with many financial woes and eventual reorganization of the joint stock company, where some of the colonist's bought up the shares. So far from socialism this was corporatist capitalism at it's worst.

Anyway, if you're a leftist, a 'moderate liberal' or some sort of right-liberal who has some kind of deeply ingrained adversarial opinion of the Mayflower Compact, what it allegedly states and the signers' reasons and intentions in organizing themselves into a civil body politic therein that some wild impulse tells you you have to share with everyone, allow me give you a free piece of advice that I think will serve you well: It might not hurt to read the actual document in conjunction with Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation before you go about exposing yourself, in front of God and everybody, as the ill-informed know-nothing that you are. In other words, take what you read on the internet and in the newspapers with a grain of salt. Trust but verify, as the saying goes, if in fact you feel you have any reason whatsoever to trust what you're being told in the first place.

But in any event, though I've yet to satisfactorily answer the question I asked in the title of the post, I may, however, have inadvertently established, within a fifty mile or so radius, the actual geographical position of Jack Hampton's residency, not to mention one or more of three newspapers that he reads with intense interest and credits with impeccably adhering to the highest possible journalistic standards of accuracy and truth in reporting. Pretty amazing stroke of luck, eh?


chiu_chunling said...

Well, I wouldn't try to mail Jack any RamaneoKwanzmas presents just yet.

It's very natural for totalitarian thought to conflate the basic theory of political legitimacy with the economics of a society. Marxist thought did it so throughly for Communism that we do not today remember that non-totalitarian communist economies were actually fairly common in some parts of the world and worked just fine as long as everybody was free to join or leave. The dirty little secret of Marxism is that communism works fine as long as the needy much enlist the voluntary cooperation of the productive rather than relying on forced redistribution.

So to some extent, even after reading the Mayflower Compact or any similar document which is in language not naturally felicitous to their intellectual attainments, totalitarianists will be inclined to assume that its language (impenetrable to them) dictated whatever economic and cultural arrangements existed in that society.

There have been many totalitarian societies in the course of human history, it is the native tendency of virtually all humans upon imagining what they could do with 'authority', after all. So the totalitarian assumption that the form of government dictates the economics and culture is not universally incorrect.

But it certainly isn't helpful in getting past the "I'm the biggest so I give the orders" level of human affairs. Not that...well, certainly there's various things wrong with that, but my own perspective isn't so concerned with right and wrong.

Terry Morris said...

Chiu, you wrote:

The dirty little secret of Marxism is that communism works fine as long as the needy much enlist the voluntary cooperation of the productive rather than relying on forced redistribution.

I'm sure you must be right about this, but one thing I can't seem to get my mind around is how, under a communist system (generally speaking, of course), productive people would have or maintain any appreciable incentive or aspirations for creating wealth that they already knew, even by their own voluntarism, was simply going to be re-distributed to the 'needy' in any event. How does that work?

Terry Morris said...

If the Mayflower Compact is all that the Jack Hamptons of the world crack it up to be, then we might as well say that the U.S. Constitution establishes a socialist form of government in which the American people covenant and combine themselves into a civil body politic for the better ordering of society, and so forth and so on. After all, the Preamble speaks of establishing things, ensuring things, providing for things, promoting things and securing things. It even mentions welfare for goodness sakes.

chiu_chunling said...

Well, in a working communal economy, the most productive have a significant say not only in joining or leaving the communal arrangement themselves, they also have a voice (though usually not an absolute and exclusive veto) on who else is allowed to participate. Otherwise the communal economy ends up without any producers as the community accepts persons the producers do not wish to support.

Most examples of communal economies are heavily kin (and kith) based, the most productive volunteer to contribute to the needs of others in the community because they are related in some degree as well as having some shared personal history. There is also a strong status element to such societies, the community as a whole produces a benefit which is not strictly economic nor a real commodity but does serve to secure allegiance from the productive.

The reason that Marxist Communism lacks these features is because it is not voluntary, the producer is a serf (if not an outright slave or even despoiled prey) rather than being free to leave the economic arrangement. It is not any kind of accident that Communist nations must resort to barbed wire and armed guards to keep their most industrious and intelligent citizens in rather than keeping enemies or bandits out.

A true free market allows and even encourages this sort of association into voluntary sub-economies organized around the particular wants and circumstances of different groups of individuals. The use of heavy regulations on labor and commodities to render this kind of cooperative arrangement legally questionable, while not as obviously horrific as the vast prison camps that are Communist countries, have done no small harm.

I'm always a bit amused at how people can sometimes be quite sensible about the dangers of "corporatist" economic oppression, but then turn around and make the inane proposition that if we give the corporation the powers of the state, all will be sunshine and lollipops. Particularly in the face of the literal mountains of dead which attest otherwise.

I believe this has something to do with the powerful psychological need of humans to believe in their own goodness. But since I have no real idea why humans want to believe themselves good, I might as well say that it's because of pixie-dust in the drinking water. Which isn't what I'm saying...though I would check on that if I knew how to detect pixie-dust.

chiu_chunling said...

Ron Bloom provides an instructive insight into the totalitarian mindset.

"Generally speaking we get the joke. We know that the free market is nonsense. We know that the whole point is to game the system, to beat the market, or at least find someone who will pay you a lot of money because they're convinced that there is a free lunch. We know this is largely about power, that it's an adults only, no limit game. We kind of agree with Mao that political power comes largely from the barrel of a gun. And we get it that if you want a friend, you should get a dog."

The fundamental justification behind totalitarian thought is that life is a zero-sum game. Anything good that happens to anyone, anywhere, at any time must have been taken away from someone else who could have enjoyed it equally. There are no differences in taste, or need, or utility. If there aren't enough artificial knee joints to go around then it must be that the people with good knee joints already used up the supply.

The fundamental premise of the free market, that a mutually beneficial solution can be worked out between two parties with complementary wants and surpluses--the win-win solution, is simply not possible in a zero-sum game. Those two parties can't both win without taking all their total benefit from some third party.

The idea that the farmer trading his surplus foodstuffs for the blacksmith's surplus hardware benefits both without hurting anyone else is literal nonsense to some people. Their view of the world simply doesn't permit such an idea. They have the simplistic view that wealth is uncreated and indestructible, there is a fixed amount and any wealth that goes to someone else is coming out of their own share.

They really believe that if you are happy for any reason, it must be that you are stealing it from them somehow or other. If they take away what seems to make you happy, even if it doesn't make them happy directly, the fact that you are less happy must surely increase the share of happiness available for them somehow.

Thus, "the free market is nonsense." Further, if you take everything away from others by killing them, you're even better off. Abortion and revolutionary purges, and a spot of genocide when somebody else can be made to take the blame.

And of course, friends are simply something you possess. You want to own friends, not be one.

There are times when you are in direct competition with a real enemy who benefits by everything that harms you and is harmed by anything that benefits you. But generally, the only reason this happens at all is because there are some people who insist on applying that pattern to everything. It is, sadly, a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who believe it. If you make yourself fundamentally an enemy to everyone, the only sane response of others is to treat you as an enemy.

chiu_chunling said...

It seems that an enterprising professor has won a Nobel prize this year for her work on voluntary cooperatives managing collective resources locally without government interference. While the examples provided are not full communism, most only dealing with one significant community resource rather than the larger total economy, her work is instructive.

Terry Morris said...

Well, correct me, but isn't it true that the Menonites operate under a communal system of sorts? Which seems to work for them fairly well.

Would you provide us a link to the story you cite?

chiu_chunling said...

Ah. Um...Indiana University has a nice page with a number of links to different articles about her award and the implications of her work. Interpretations (as always) vary.

The Mennonite system includes elements of communal labor and very strong community standards, but the economic model is predominantly based on private rather than communal property ownership. I would say that their economic success owes more to ultra-conservative values, including an extreme aversion to economic risk and dependency, which allows for stable economic growth insulated from modern business cycles.

If you want good examples of working communism, you really must go back to before the rise of Marxism as a significant force in the world. I would personally rank this as a lesser evil...I'm not particularly attached to communism as an economic model. A healthy climate for the support and administration of alms-giving and patronage of the arts (to include less-practical sciences) is entirely sufficient to cover the supposed holes in free-market capitalism.

From the Christian perspective, the great evil of economic disparity is mainly found in an unhealthy preoccupation with it. Given the history of the world, I would say that those who disparage the free market are generally guilty of serious sin. I mean...sin intrinsic to why they disparage the free market as opposed to their superficially independent propensity for murders and adulteries and such.

My point is mainly that the conflation of political legitimacy with economic structure is so natural to totalitarian thinking that it has the color of reason, despite being insupportable outside of the assumption of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism itself is logically inane, being based heavily on zero-sum thinking and denial of individuality. So anything implicitly dependent on the totalitarian outlook is untenable.

But when enough people assert something, however obviously ludicrous, with a straight's only natural to begin to believe it even if you know better. When we're presented with evidence of a proposition, even if we know the evidence is faked, the proposition begins to seem more probable.