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Free Inquiry is about humanism, you say?
Posted: 20 July 2006 07:45 PM   [ Ignore ]
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There was a time when I felt Tom Flynn could do no wrong.  Except for the occasional silly attacks on "religious" humanists (which often turns silly because, to some, religion need not include supernaturalism), Flynn turned a good magazine into a great one.  From the design to tapping into some truly brilliant columnists to the content itself, Free Inquiry became, during Flynn’s watch, a magazine humanists could be proud of.

    Then the Danish Cartoon debacle. Contrary to Flynn’s (and Paul Kurtz’) continued self-cheering on how bold and secular they were for publishing in Free Inquiry the infamous bigoted insults to Arabs (not Muslims, like the atheist avengers at the Council for Secular Humanism seem to think), CSH’s director David Koepsell’s more compassionate essay and Norm Allen’s more nuanced and relevant essay were, sadly, relegated to newsletters, not fit, it seems, for the atheist magazine Flynn edits.  Flynn says he was proud of his political and cultural stance; a stance, which in clearer light, ignored both politics and culture.

    But wait, did I said atheist magazine?  Is not Free Inquiry published by the Council for Secular Humanism?  It is, but humanism seems to be disappearing from Free Inquiry as much as it is from the entire Center for Inquiry "movement."  What fills much of the pages of the August/September issue seems to match very well with the new mission of the Center for Inquiry, and it has little to do with humanism.  Populated by libertarians and conservatives whom want to defend atheism, demean religion, and proclaim reason-based morality as their inspiration, the Center for Inquiry has abandoned humanism for some sort of big-tent methodology which, in the end, seems to have, ironically, sacrificed humanism on the alter of capitalism. 

    It seems more important to CFI/CSH to sell magazines and excite rich donors than to promote and defend humanism.  Just look at the offerings this time.  An urgent op-ed where Wendy Kaminer tries to tell us about that ‘oh-so-important’ crises, plagiarism?  An in-house debate about what Antony Flew believes about God, or not?  The talent of a brilliant physicist used for determining if values come from God, or not?  Arguments about faith, "news" about threats to academic freedom that’s been covered to death in magazines that have something substantive to say about this issue, and of course, the obligatory nonsense of the former critical thinker Christopher Hitchens, who mocks folks for reasons having nothing to do with where they stand on issues.  How is any of this relevant to advocating for social change?  Indeed, even including Hitchens (or Tibor Machan) as a columnist - the man told Redcat Theatre audiences in a debate on Iraq recently that he loved war and killing terrorists - debases any attempt to promote humanism whatsoever.

    To top this off, we have an essay by Paul Kurtz himself whose arguments miss the most relevant reasons for the persistence of religion (read Scott Atran, Paul), and ignores the most relevant alternatives to religion by leapfrogging determinism, human nature and spirituality (the naturalistic sort). 

    All of this anti-religiosity, braggart atheism and all things peripheral to humanism, behind a front cover which I suppose is Flynn’s way of creating his own "Danish cartoon."  I can’t see how this magazine, and the organization it represents, will help lead us to a planetary humanism in this way.  Seems to me, CFI’s image of humanism looks just like Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s might have. 

    What should be the sort of things a humanist magazine tackles, along with some of the basics Free Inquiry does usually include like biblical criticism, important book reviews, and church/state news?  Check out the July/August issue of the Humanist.  The cover story about terrorism is not Hitchen’s hyperbole, but real information we need to know about the so-called "war on terror."  There’s an important piece on how U.S. Mayors are dealing with global warming.  There’s a great essay by a social scientist on the conservative, antiscientific notion of " people getting their just deserts."  There is a scientific look into criminal behavior and law.  And there’s an essay some at Free Inquiry need to read called, "Overcoming Antagonistic Atheism to Recast the Image of Humanism." 

    But perhaps this should come as no surprise.  Though the Humanist could use some of Flynn’s proven ability in creating style, and though the Humanist certainly can cover more diverse issues, it is the mouth piece of an organization (American Humanist Association), which hasn’t abandoned humanism for the promotion of SOME of the components of humanism - secularism, atheism, & scientific inquiry - as ends in themselves. 

Perhaps this is partly due to the AHA caring more about the sociopolitical philosophy of humanism, than about becoming a pseudo-political "think tank" for nonbelievers.  Or perhaps it is because the AHA understands that libertarian or conservative atheists and/or secularists are not humanists.  Or perhaps the AHA, through the Humanist, wants to be about something, rather than to merely argue against what it doesn’t want to be.  Anyway, the future of humanism, unless CSH re-embraces humanism, has at least a fighting chance with the AHA.  At CSH, it seems, humanists need not apply.

Barry F. Seidman
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    [i:c277e687d9]Secular Humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy - informed by scientific naturalism - which advocates for a democratic, non-hierarchal society, and promotes individual freedom, economic and social equality, human cooperation and planetary peace.[/i:c277e687d9]

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Posted: 20 July 2006 07:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Free Inquiry is about humanism, you say?

There was a time when I felt Tom Flynn could do no wrong.  Except for the occasional silly attacks on “religious” humanists (which often turns silly because, to some, religion need not include supernaturalism), Flynn turned a good magazine into a great one.  From the design to tapping into some truly brilliant columnists to the content itself, Free Inquiry became, during Flynn’s watch, a magazine humanists could be proud of.

    Then the Danish Cartoon debacle. Contrary to Flynn’s (and Paul Kurtz’) continued self-cheering on how bold and secular they were for publishing in Free Inquiry the infamous bigoted insults to Arabs (not Muslims, like the atheist avengers at the Council for Secular Humanism seem to think), CSH’s director David Koepsell’s more compassionate essay and Norm Allen’s more nuanced and relevant essay were, sadly, relegated to newsletters, not fit, it seems, for the atheist magazine Flynn edits.  Flynn says he was proud of his political and cultural stance; a stance, which in clearer light, ignored both politics and culture.

    But wait, did I said atheist magazine?  Is not Free Inquiry published by the Council for Secular Humanism?  It is, but humanism seems to be disappearing from Free Inquiry as much as it is from the entire Center for Inquiry “movement.”  What fills much of the pages of the August/September issue seems to match very well with the new mission of the Center for Inquiry, and it has little to do with humanism.  Populated by libertarians and conservatives whom want to defend atheism, demean religion, and proclaim reason-based morality as their inspiration, the Center for Inquiry has abandoned humanism for some sort of big-tent methodology which, in the end, seems to have, ironically, sacrificed humanism on the alter of capitalism. 

    It seems more important to CFI/CSH to sell magazines and excite rich donors than to promote and defend humanism.  Just look at the offerings this time.  An urgent op-ed where Wendy Kaminer tries to tell us about that ‘oh-so-important’ crises, plagiarism?  An in-house debate about what Antony Flew believes about God, or not?  The talent of a brilliant physicist used for determining if values come from God, or not?  Arguments about faith, “news” about threats to academic freedom that’s been covered to death in magazines that have something substantive to say about this issue, and of course, the obligatory nonsense of the former critical thinker Christopher Hitchens, who mocks folks for reasons having nothing to do with where they stand on issues.  How is any of this relevant to advocating for social change?  Indeed, even including Hitchens (or Tibor Machan) as a columnist - the man told Redcat Theatre audiences in a debate on Iraq recently that he loved war and killing terrorists - debases any attempt to promote humanism whatsoever.

    To top this off, we have an essay by Paul Kurtz himself whose arguments miss the most relevant reasons for the persistence of religion (read Scott Atran, Paul), and ignores the most relevant alternatives to religion by leapfrogging determinism, human nature and spirituality (the naturalistic sort). 

    All of this anti-religiosity, braggart atheism and all things peripheral to humanism, behind a front cover which I suppose is Flynn’s way of creating his own “Danish cartoon.”  I can’t see how this magazine, and the organization it represents, will help lead us to a planetary humanism in this way.  Seems to me, CFI’s image of humanism looks just like Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s might have. 

    What should be the sort of things a humanist magazine tackles, along with some of the basics Free Inquiry does usually include like biblical criticism, important book reviews, and church/state news?  Check out the July/August issue of the Humanist.  The cover story about terrorism is not Hitchen’s hyperbole, but real information we need to know about the so-called “war on terror.”  There’s an important piece on how U.S. Mayors are dealing with global warming.  There’s a great essay by a social scientist on the conservative, antiscientific notion of ” people getting their just deserts.”  There is a scientific look into criminal behavior and law.  And there’s an essay some at Free Inquiry need to read called, “Overcoming Antagonistic Atheism to Recast the Image of Humanism.” 

    But perhaps this should come as no surprise.  Though the Humanist could use some of Flynn’s proven ability in creating style, and though the Humanist certainly can cover more diverse issues, it is the mouth piece of an organization (American Humanist Association), which hasn’t abandoned humanism for the promotion of SOME of the components of humanism - secularism, atheism, & scientific inquiry - as ends in themselves. 

Perhaps this is partly due to the AHA caring more about the sociopolitical philosophy of humanism, than about becoming a pseudo-political “think tank” for nonbelievers.  Or perhaps it is because the AHA understands that libertarian or conservative atheists and/or secularists are not humanists.  Or perhaps the AHA, through the Humanist, wants to be about something, rather than to merely argue against what it doesn’t want to be.  Anyway, the future of humanism, unless CSH re-embraces humanism, has at least a fighting chance with the AHA.  At CSH, it seems, humanists need not apply.

Barry F. Seidman
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    Secular Humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy - informed by scientific naturalism - which advocates for a democratic, non-hierarchal society, and promotes individual freedom, economic and social equality, human cooperation and planetary peace.

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Posted: 23 July 2006 01:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I dont think secular humanism must by definition work for non-heirarchical societies. Do you think we shouldnt have a president for instance?

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Posted: 27 July 2006 11:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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"...We’re the People’s Liberation Front of Judea!"

I don’t want to go off topic here, but there was a statement in your post that I just can’t let go.

I, too, had read the article “Overcoming Antagonistic Atheism to Recast the Image of Humanism” and loved it and feel all of us inthe movement could benefit from being more tolerant and open since it’s the best way to diffuse the negative stereotypes we are victims of. 

But then I got to this sentence"Or perhaps it is because the AHA understands that libertarian or conservative atheists and/or secularists are not humanists.”

I am truly sorry that you do not think that libertarians are humanists.  I eel the need to speak out because so many humanists tie their support of liberal (socialist, not laissez-faire) economic policies to their suport of humanism and think they are one in the same; that you can’t be a humanist unless you are a liberal.  I am a card-carrying Libertarian and a dues-paying Humanist and I see no conflict whatsoever between the two.  I feel that you are speaking from the viewpoint that if a person is compassionate they must be a socialist.  One would only be a capitalist out of greed.  I disagree.  People who are capitalist are capitalist because they believe it is what is best for society and humanity.  I prefer philanthropy to taxation because it allows me to only fund organizations that produce results and prevents the government from giving my money to churches and social programs that don’t work.

Perhaps my perception of government waste is skewed because I grew up in New Orleans, where taxpayers’ money is certainly not spent on roads and infrastructure, the government’s idea of housing for the poor is appallingly bleak and dangerous slums, and when things do get done they’re done through “brother-in-law contracts.”  Where politicians legalize gambling and then leave politics to join the board of the local casino.

I am happy that I can vote with my dollar in a capitalist society.  I proudly purchase from local small farms through our farmers’ market for my family’s groceries.  I know how well they manage the land.  The government, in contrast, funds agribusiness and monoculture.  I devote time and money to our local adult literacy program, where I see adults go from not knowing what sound each letter makes to reading _Fahrenheit 451_.  All of them were failed by the public school system.  Libertarians know that there is an economic advantage to supporting one’s local community as it improves your own standardof living.  In my eyes, giving to the government gets you corporate welfare, ineffective social programs and slums that breed crime and despair.

In truth I think it’s counter-productive to argue over who is more humanist based on the economic system they support.  And it’s divisive to say you can only be a humanist if you seek one particular solution to society’s problems.  It is insulting for either side to impune the motives of the other. We may seek different paths in our support of humanity, but as humanists our motives are the same.

Holly Hudson

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Posted: 27 July 2006 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Well put, Holly, and I’m glad you spoke up.

I expect that some will say that as humanists we ought to be fighting for the good of all humanity—which means poor as well as rich, et cetera. So, let’s focus on the poor, which is the main issue.

Libertarianism I take to be a position in favor of laissez faire capitalism. Surely capitalism is, globally, an extremely effective tool at raising people out of poverty. However, in some areas it clearly fails.

To take one example, the so-called “tragedy of the commons” : if a common area is open to free exploitation by all who wish to use it, that will lead inevitably to overuse and destruction of the commons. This precise problem happens in common fisheries, which are unregulated and hence overfished to the long-term detriment of all. This is the source of many environmental problems ... what are called “externalities” , where the cost of impact on a common resource fails to show up in profit and loss statements of the players involved, until the bitter end when all suffer the consequences of overexploitation. In order to avoid such situations, governmental interference in free markets is at times essential.

Similarly, there are information asymmetries between those with resources to buy information and those without such resources. So a wealthy person will be able to buy research telling him which bank is best to use, or which medicine is best to take. A poor person will not have easy access to such research. This is fundamentally unfair, and also needs to be corrected by giving public access to certain sorts of information.

And there are other very deep problems in our society with healthcare distribution, where even a middle-class family can literally be driven into bankruptcy by a single serious illness; and where the poor are treated inefficiently in the emergency room rather than given the much cheaper preventative care they need and indeed morally require.

Of course, the issues you bring up are with governmental inefficiency or incompetence, which is a real issue (Particularly with the present government, which we need not get into). Every government is made up of humans, and humans aren’t perfect. So there is no real panacea here, but clearly certain sorts of governmental interventions are necessary and useful.

... and so to is freedom of the press to blow the whistle when government screws up.

Much more could be said here. I expect that these are some of the concerns many of us have with some of the more “unbridled” sorts of libertarianism. That said, I personally do not think there should be a political or economic litmus-test to being considered a humanist. There is enough room for honest disagreement here.

:wink:

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Posted: 27 July 2006 03:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Libertarian Humanists?

Hi Holly!

    I am glad you advocate for a less antagonistic atheism ... what might be called humanism ... as we naturalists try to influence all people to work for a better society! 

    It is also, I feel, difficult to move toward such a society as a Libertarian… At least in the American style.

    The way I see it - at least with modern Libertarians and modern Liberals - is that too often people get their definitions mixed up.  Classical Liberalism, and the Enlightenment itself, may have been a prerequisite for both Capitalism and Socialism, but it’s libertarianism was quite different that that of today’s American and English Libertarianism.  And while I find much of modern liberalism to be humanistic, there are some elements of the Left - even with progressives (whom I feel are Left of liberals) - that are problematic. 

    One of these which come to mind is the Left’s unclear dividing line between allying itself with the religious Left and BECOMING a clone of the religious Left.  Though the religious and secular Left need to work together toward the removal of Christo-fascism in America, eventually the religious Left will need to leave its love affair with supernaturalism behind, lest we find ourselves in a new cycle of religious fanaticism in the future. 

    Another dangerous element in modern liberalism or progressivism is postmodernism and/or cultural relativism, and here I would assume we are in full agreement.

    All that said, I now would like to say that I have one really big problem with socialism/communism as well.  I find it hard to imagine ... at least in the near future ... how we can implement a truly just socialistic state and not wind up bastardizing it as in the case of the late USSR. 

Vanguard Parties just scare me. 

But even in democratic socialist nations (such as in parts of Europe), though superior to America in many humanistic ways, there is too much emphases on the state or the market to truly move those countries into the sort of humanism I’d be happy with. 

    And it must be said now that state or corporate capitalism is clearly just as damaging to the world at large as any communistic country has ever been.  Indeed, as I see it, capitalism itself is inherently anti-humanistic for all the reasons Marx himself laid out, and more.  It creates winners and losers, needless competition, haves and have nots, elite bosses and wage slaves, etc.  That capitalism has helped progress humanity with technology and medicine at the cost of our humanity itself, does not impress me.  I have not seen any apologetics which make capitalism even sound like a good idea.
    So what is left (pun intended)?  I think you, Holly, may be closer to a solution than you think… a solution better then communism, pure socialism or capitalism - all while retaining a science-based, Enlightenment-styled optimism - closer than most liberals, some progressives or any conservatives can come. 

    Libertarianism.

But not late 20th century Libertatianism.  Libertarianism was robbed in the U.S. and U.K. of it’s humanism when it replaced true democracy and socialistic ideals with capitalism about five decades ago.  As Noam Chomsky points out, capitialism is anthetical to democracy. 

Capitalism has failed humanity, this is abundantly clear.  There can be no humanistic capitalistic state any more than a humanistic communistic state.
    What I feel needs to be done is for us to accept the communitarian, corporative aspects of socialism, bring back our reason-based understanding of epistemology and American individual rights respect born from the Enlightenment, and look again into the classical liberalism and libertarianism of the pre-capitalistic sort .. And advocate for a “Left Libertarianism,” if you will. 

Here you find the sort of libertarian-socialism AND Enlightenment qualities all humanists can be happy with ... Well, at least those humanists who understand human nature, take the Humanist Manifestos I and II seriously, and are looking to implement real progressive social change.  But then again, to me, “other” humanists are more likely to be mere atheists, secularists or New Agers, and not humanists at all.  And for anyone who feels nervous about clearly defining humanism, they might as well drop the “ism,” because loosely defined isms are useless.

One author you may like regarding economics and democracy, and this sort of left-libertarianism, is Michael Albert.  For an introduction to his ideas, read his new book, Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism.

Peace!

Barry F. Seidman

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Posted: 28 July 2006 04:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Capitalism failed?

Hi Barry,

Your writings on these issues are always passionate!  I have many questions—economic and political theory is not my strong point, and I don’t have a clear idea of how I think things should be.  Well, here goes:

Capitalism has failed humanity, this is abundantly clear.

Not to sound dense, but how is it abundantly clear?  Most I hear who argue against capitalism say, Well, look what state the world is in because of capitalism—starvation, Wal-Mart, disparity in health care, deregulation, pollution, and so on.  But it could also be said, Look what state the world is in because of Science—pollution, overpopulation, starvation, war, bombs, refined sugars, whatever.  Proponents argue that capitalism (like democracy) would work well, it just needs some fixing, then it’ll be smooth sailing.

I think the whole cultural system is doomed, but that’s another story.  So, how has capitalism failed humanity?  I look forward to your response!

Debbie

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Posted: 28 July 2006 04:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Just to be clear here, Debbie, I disagree with Barry’s opinion on this issue. There is only one way to raise people out of poverty. That is through raising the standard of living.

There is only one way to raise the standard of living. That is by increasing the efficiencies of production so that on average each person produces more per hour of work.

There is only one way to increase the efficiencies of production. That is through the capitalist system of free competition and so-called ‘creative destruction’. If your model doesn’t out-compete, your company goes under.

This is what raised standards of living for the first time in human history beginning in the 18th century. It is what lifted Japan and Korea out of third-world status in the second half of the 20th century. It is what is lifting China into first-world dominance now.

And as should be abundantly clear from my other posts here, in order to work properly, the capitalist system must be well-regulated, since the market is not entirely efficient, and can create problems (externalities like environmental pollution and global warming, etc.) Competition is also not always fair, as when monopolies abuse their powers to stifle competitors. For all these reasons, government regulations are necessary for the healthy functioning of the market.

Further, in order to be humane, this capitalist system has to include a robust safety net for those out of work and for the young, sick and elderly.

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Posted: 28 July 2006 08:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Capitalism fixable?  Not!

Doug is offering the same sort of recommendations offered by capitalistic apologetics ... Recommendations which have almost never been able to get off the ground because of the sort of the maladjustment to human nature that severe competition creates ... and Capitalism is nothing without severe competition. 

When it DOES get off the ground, we have the sort of State Capitalism we found in the USSR, post-Stalin.

Debbie:  It would truly take a book to cite all the problems with capitalism and how Doug’s ideas are mere fairy-tale - and it so happens there are many books which do this from Marx to Albert.

One good book on the problems with competition itself, is Alfie Kohn’s, “No Contest” - http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/nc.htm.

A brilliant book on an alternative to capitalism (which is not centralized socialism), is - as I cited before - Michael Albert’s “Realizing Hope” - http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=9668

Albert says of capitalism: 

“...Capitalism is a thug’s economy, a heartless economy, a base and vile and largely boring economy.  It is the antitheses of human fulfillment and development.  It mocks equity and justice.  It enshrines greed.  It does not serve humanity. 

“A few percentage of the population owns almost all industry, machinery, resources and farmland.  About 20 per cent of the employees of capitalistic workplaces do mostly conceptual and empowering task, while the other 80 percent to mostly rote and obedient task.  The 20 percent make many decisions and affect social choices.  The 80 percent make few decisions and mainly obey orders. 

“People’s income in capitalistic economies comes mostly from their bargaining power (selling themselves like whores*).  The control one has over needed assets of skills, the value of the output one generates, one’s social attributes like gender and race, and one’s organizational affiliations .. (all) convey (a) greater or lesser ability to accrue income. 

“Markets mediate the amount of any particular good or service produces ... Buyers and sellers benefit themselves, oblivious to impact on others.  I sell at the highest price I can get the least costly items I can deliver.  You buy at the lowest price you can offer the most valuable items you can amass.  We fleece each other. 

“In market exchanges, those with more power make out like bandits and ‘nice guys finish last.’  Beyond private ownership of the means of production, cooperate workplace organization, authoritative decision-making, remuneration for bargaining power, property, and output, and market allocation, myriad variations in secondary institutions, population, local history, and impositions from other parts of society, distinguish different instances of capitalism from one another.  The great Latin American writer, Eduardo Galeano, explained how capitalism had nearly all its valuations upside-down:  ‘From the point of view of the economy, the sale of weapons is indistinguishable from the sale of food.  When a building collapses or a plane crashes, its rather inconvenient from the point of view of those inside, buts it’s altogether convenient for the growth of the gross national produce, which sometimes ought to be called the gross criminal product.’”

Albert offers Parecon (Participatory Economics) as an alternative to capitalism, which focuses on values NOT inherent in capitalism no matter how much the state regulates the market (which is merely state capitalism as in the USSR post Stalin).  Those values are Solidarity, Diversity, Equity and Self-Management.  Capitalism divides, we need, as humanists, to unite.

* my words

Barry F. Seidman

    Secular Humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy - informed by scientific naturalism - which advocates for a democratic, non-hierarchal society, and promotes individual freedom, economic and social equality, human cooperation and planetary peace.

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Posted: 28 July 2006 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’ll need to take more time later to ponder this, but in the meantime—Barry, if your vision of a humanistic future doesn’t look like capitalism, and doesn’t look like socialism, what does it look like?  Please describe—I think I’d have a better idea of what your ideal is if I could have a picture in my head.

Maybe Michael Albert’s book has a good image, but I won’t have the time to read it for quite a while.  You know me, always running around.  smile  So if you could summarize the capitalism alternative, I’d appreciate it.

Debbie

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Posted: 28 July 2006 09:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I would suggest that neither Michael Albert nor Alfie Kohn are practicing economists, and (from a glance at their Wikipedia entries) neither appears to have any particular economics or business background. This is something like going to your corner hardware store for information on Darwinian evolution. Not something I’d suggest to a regular reader of Skeptical Inquirer!

For good books about economics and capitalism, written on an entirely readable level by a (politically) moderate to left-wing professor, I’d suggest anything by Paul Krugman . He is professor of economics at Princeton, and has taught at Stanford and MIT. He also won the John Bates Clark medal in 1991, which is as hard to achieve as a Nobel in economics ... as well as usually being a precursor to a Nobel later in life. Of course, he is now particularly famous for his trenchant and accurate critiques of the Bush administration in the NYTimes.

One nice thing about Krugman’s written work is that he delves right in to the links between economics, politics and daily life.

Some of his books:

Pop Internationalism
Peddling Prosperity
The Age of Diminished Expectations
The Return of Depression Economics
The Accidental Theorist

They’re all good. Accidental Theorist is probably a good place to start since (although one of the later ones) is a compilation of shorter essays.

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Posted: 28 July 2006 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I think this thread is pretty interesting. It is certainly eye-opening. For some reason I assume that most people who are atheists/humanists would have politics like Barry (and myself to some extent - although I am no longer well-read on such topics).  I always thought the free-market Americanized Libertarian atheist was a myth because I always thought that the shedding of the religions of xianity and free-market capitalism were related.

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Posted: 28 July 2006 09:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[quote author=“tom_g”]I think this thread is pretty interesting. It is certainly eye-opening. For some reason I assume that most people who are atheists/humanists would have politics like Barry (and myself to some extent - although I am no longer well-read on such topics).  I always thought the free-market Americanized Libertarian atheist was a myth because I always thought that the shedding of the religions of xianity and free-market capitalism were related.

Oy, tom, my previous posts should make clear that I am no libertarian. Nor is Krugman.

That said, I have met several very strongly ‘Americanized Libertarian atheists’. (Had lunch with a couple of them a few weeks back). I disagree with their economic policies as well.

There isn’t any real link between Christianity and capitalism in any of its forms. Christ, in particular, was certainly no capitalist.

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Posted: 28 July 2006 07:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Capitalism, ALbert, Krugman, etc

First, to Doug, and then to Debbie:

Doug:  A few things

1) Krugman is a good man.  I met him several times at talks in NYC.  I would never consider him a Leftist though, so a moderate (as you say) would be more like it.  I seem him as a mainstream liberal, actually, who while a bit to the Left of the Clintons, is far to the right of the sort of folks I’m talking about.  And just because he often exposes the Bush administration for its many problems, does not mean he has better answers then most Democrats do (few Democrats seem to “get it” besides perhaps Lee, Boxer and Kucinich).  Besides, it is not hard to bash Bush… he’s an easy target.  Krugman is waiting for a new ‘New Deal’ to emerge, and thinks this time it will stick.  I would not hold my breath for either.

2) Skeptical Inquirer essays are often overly cynical and not honestly skeptical.  Let’s not use the magazine as a foundation for critical thinking.  I never said anything about Kohn in relation to economics. I was talking about his thoughts on competition.  Kohn is a socialogist and edjucator, and that was what I wanted to reference him for.  Albert does not teach economics, but he has studied it in detail.  One does not have to teach or practice a skill in order to be a scholar of it.  Also, many who DO practice economics in the U.S. have gotten into the field because they accepted (at least, or even loved) capitalism, and would not (even if they could) deconstruct capitalism while buried deep in its bowels.  Asking even a standard liberal - nevermind a conservative - like Krugman to be objective about capitalism and alternatives to capitalism is like asking a Catholic priest to do the same regarding Christianity.  If the latter DID, he’d leave the priesthood!  Albert can view capitalism from a clearer perspective than Krugman.

Debbie:  Albert’s ideas can be best found at the website I list after this:

By Albert:

“Participatory economics, or parecon, is an alternative way to organize economic life.

“Parecon has equitable incomes, circumstances, opportunities, and responsibilities for all participants. Each parecon participant has a fair share of control over their own life and over all shared social outcomes. Parecon eliminates class division.

“Parecon produces solidarity. Even an antisocial individual in a parecon has no choice but to account for social well-being if he or she wishes to prosper.

“Parecon diversifies outcomes and generates equitable distribution that remunerates each participant for how long and how hard they work as well as for harsh conditions they may suffer at work.

“Parecon also conveys to each person a say in what is produced, what means are used, and how outputs are allocated, all in proportion to the degree he or she is affected by those decisions.

“Parecon, in other words, has completely different values than capitalism and to further its different values parecon incorporates different institutions.

“Parecon has workers and consumers councils where workers and consumers employ diverse modes of discussion, debate, and democratic determination. In parecon, there are no corporate owners and managers deciding outcomes from the top down.

“Parecon has “balanced job complexes” in which each worker does a fair combination of empowering and rote labor, so that all participants have comparably empowering circumstances instead of 20% of the workforce monopolizing all the empowering tasks and 80% doing only subordinate labor. In a parecon there is still expertise. There is still coordination. Decisions still get made. But there is no minority monopolizing empowering information, activity, and access to decision making positions while a majority is made subservient by doing only deadening daily tasks with no decision making component.

“In parecon each and every job, which means each and every person’s work, involves a mix calibrated so that each participant has essentially equally empowering conditions. A parecon has no owning class. It has no technocratic, managerial, or coordinator class. A parecon has only workers and consumers cooperatively creatively fulfilling their capacities consistently with each participant having a fair share of influence.

“Parecon has remuneration for effort and sacrifice, which translates to remuneration for the duration, intensity, and harshness of the work people do. Parecon rejects remuneration for power, property, or even output. Instead of gargantuan disparities of income and wealth, parecon has a just distribution of social product.

“Parecon also does away with markets which pit each actor against all others, destroy solidarity, impose class division, mis-price all public goods, ignore collective effects beyond direct buyers and sellers, violate ecological balance and sustainability, and have many other faults as well. In place of markets parecon utilizes a system of workers and consumers, through their self managing councils, cooperatively negotiating inputs and outputs for all firms and actors in accord with true and full social costs and benefits of economic activities.”

 

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Posted: 29 July 2006 02:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Hi Barry,

The problem is that economics just is the serious academic study of (among other things) competition and capitalism. Certainly it does happen infrequently that brilliant new ideas come from left field ... but much more often that’s where you find the cranks with their perpetual-motion-machines, railing against the university physicists. That’s also where you find the creationists, saying that biologists can’t be objective about God’s Creation because if they were, they would be thrown out of the university.

My worries are further raised by the quotes you provide on “parecon”. It sounds to me like a believer’s description of heaven, where all is happiness and light and milk and honey flows.

In particular, if we abolish the free market, who decides these so-called “just distributions”? Who controls the group such that each participant has a “balanced job complex”? If the market misprices goods and services, who prices goods and services under parecon?

This sounds to me little more than fantasy. If implemented it would end very quickly with totalitarianism. The Supreme Soviet would be doing the deciding, I’m afraid.

Winston Churchill said it best about democracy, however the same is true of capitalism:  “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

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Posted: 29 July 2006 06:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Doug missing the point?

Doug:

Parecon is not Soviet Communism.  Its not even state socialism the way you think of it.  I am not advocating for either. 

Democracy IS the best form of government we have thus far, as Winston said (assuming government itself is a good thing, which is doubtfull); but Capitalism is not the same thing as democracy.  In fact, capitalism is anthetical to democracy. 

Also, the sort of democracy we have in the U.S. is far inferior to the sort of ‘Participatory Democracy’ Albert and Steven Shalom and others talk about. 

The opposite of capitalism is not socialism. Socialism is not purely about economics.  And not all socialism is nondemocratic.  And Libertarian-Socialism, what I am talking about here, is somthing else altogether.

PS: Your comparison of Parecon or non-capitalistic economics (though you seem to think that all economies need to be capitalistic???) to Creationism and other fantasies shows both your hardline, cynical, comfirmation bias and a severe lack of an ability to ‘think outside the (capitalistic) box.’ 

PSS:  Read from the link I posted before you offer (un)critical thoughts.

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