Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:
Ever since someone had another idea, people have been debating the merits and disadvantages of their various views on things. It seldom gets more heated than when the subject turns to the political realm, and within that the bloody twentieth century also stands out. That century is still fairly raw, especially in Europe where some of the European Union's newer members have tried (and failed) to have denial of Stalin's terrorism criminalised alongside Holocaust Denial, and where there has been rioting in Estonia after the removal of a statue erected to commemorate the Red Army. All this makes good fodder for Internet debate.
In late May, a Youtube video on the victims of Communism was posted on the blog of David Farrar, who was then linked to by Peter Cresswell on his blog. This is a common enough event, but the comments sections of both blogs are what I want to focus on. Regular Kiwiblog commenter "Sonic" jibed in response about the victims of Capitalism and how their number would be beyond counting, and at "NotPC", a chap called "ScrubOne" thought that the Youtube horrors were "atheism at work". Today, we're going to look at the four views mentioned, Atheism and Capitalism, Religion and Socialism, and show how Religion and Socialism can justifiably be blamed for causing a great deal of suffering but Atheism and Capitalism cannot.
We'll start with the easy ones. Religion comes first since it is the easiest thing in the world to prove that religious people have committed atrocities, and more importantly that their behaviour was caused and justified by their religious beliefs.
It may seem obvious, but worth pointing out anyway, that people act according to their beliefs. And this is especially true for the religious since religions often come with a book of rules that their followers have to abide by. Given this, it doesn't take much detective work to find out why a religious person does something since they usually advertise it. "Terror in the Mind of God" by Mark Juergensmeyer is an excellent resource for this, with examples contemporary of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and so on murdering and finding justification for it in their religion. And of course there are historical examples that everyone can think of like the Crusades, the Inquisition, the spread of Islam and so forth.
To cut some objections off at the pass, a religious person might claim that the passages used to justify murders are being used "out of context", or that the perpetrators were not "real" adherents of the faith. This is usually done by either citing alternate passages in the religion's scriptures that condemn the terrorist's action. These two objections are easily handled. Firstly, just because person "A" can find scripture that negates the scripture that person "B" does not mean that that person "B" is wrong, it just means that the religion contradicts itself. If you are against murder you look to the Decalogue, but a few pages away the Chosen People are happily murdering, raping, and enslaving the Amalakites for example. You would be pretty hard pressed to find something that was not approved of at least once in a scripture, except perhaps atheism. And so any appeals to "context" ring hollow, and in the end depend on whatever you are trying to justify. Just find a conclusion and the scriptural justification will come. Also, arguments about who is a "real" adherent suffer when you look at the overwhelming number of sincere believers who must have been wrong. All the people involved in the machinery of the Inquisition, or the Crusades, or in Al Qaeda, or the homicide bombings in Iraq and Israel, missed something. Probability suggests otherwise.
We remain within the genus of religion, although the species is secular, when we turn to Socialism. Not without good reason has Socialism been labelled a secular religion. Charles Sutherland, as one example, included communism (and for all practical intents and purposes Communism and Socialism can be interchanged) with Christianity, Judaism, Islam in his excellent critique of religions "Disciples of Destruction : The Religious Origins of War and Terrorism".
Whilst not an ethical system to the same degree of the supernatural religions mentioned above, Socialism is still a governor of human behaviour by virtue of its being a political and economic ideology, and people's politics, economics, and ethics are linked. When you put together the ingredients of Socialist scripture - the metanarrative of how humanity should be organised and how it will get to that stage - and of human beings themselves, and more importantly how they survive and flourish in reality, you will find that they do not mix well. No matter who the individual Socialists are who are trying to implement the ideas, the ideas themselves dictate certain outcomes, most notably suffering and death, to happen regardless of whether that is what individual Socialists or their writings intend. We shall explore the freedoms required by people to survive when we examine Capitalism, but suffice it to say for the present that the equality demanded by Socialists runs contrary to those freedoms.
David Horowitz puts it succinctly when he says that “the rights historically claimed in the paradigm of the Left are self-contradictory and self-defeating.”, and further that “The regime of social justice, of which the Left dreams, is a regime that by its very nature must crush individual freedom. It is not a question of choosing the right (while avoiding the wrong) political means in order to achieve the desired ends. The means are contained in the ends. The leftist revolution must crush freedom in order to achieve the ‘social justice’ that it seeks. It is unable, therefore, to achieve even that end. This is the totalitarian circle that cannot be squared. Socialism is not bread without freedom; it is neither freedom nor bread.”
The means are contained in the ends. The violence that occurs under Socialism is not only dictated by Socialism itself, but is ongoing. It isn't an aberration that will go away once Socialism is achieved and it wouldn't have not happened if different people were in charge. Sadly that lesson not been learned by the many who go around wearing Che Guevara T-Shirts and the like, if more than a hundred million deaths worldwide won't drive the point home then it becomes quite unnerving to think of what would need to be done to prove it.
In explaining just how Socialism is not just wrong, but horrendously wrong with murderous consequences, we turn to Capitalism.
We have seen that the Socialism by its very nature leads to a large helping of terror, but, in comparison, what is the nature of Capitalism? If you look in your average dictionary, and on the Internet http://dictionary.com serves our purpose, you will find a definition along the lines of:
An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.
Which is all very well, but incomplete. In order to have this sort of economic structure there need to be a range of political conditions, and so to complete the definition we would need to add something like this definition of Capitalism from, appropriately, http://www.capitalism.org.
Capitalism is a social system based on the principle of individual rights. The term capitalism is used here in the broader philosophical political sense, and not in the narrower economic sense, i.e. a free-market.
The strict economic conditions present in our first definition require the political principle of individual rights proposed in the second. This sentiment is expressed by John Locke when we writes “Every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.”
Buried within Capitalism, then, is the secret of its success. When judging political and economic systems a criteria just as important as what the system thinks people that follow the system should do, is how the system treats people that don’t follow the system. Or in other words, what happens to those who disagree?
We have seen that under Socialism, and Religion, that those who disagree must die. You can’t just disagree with God and carry on you merry way because since you are going against God you are immoral, and since your life does not belong to you true believers are well within their rights to either do what is necessary to set you straight or remove you from society altogether so you don’t contaminate others, and the same is true with the secular religion of Socialism. You can’t just be left free to contaminate others with ideas of liberty as a class enemy, you have to be eliminated.
Tolerance of those who disagree, then, is Capitalism’s greatest asset and Socialism and Religion’s greatest flaw. With Capitalism you are most welcome not to have money or property if you regard it as exploitative and evil, and you will be left alone, you can even set yourselves up with other believers in a commune run according to your beliefs and will be left alone. The only provisos being those that govern any civilised society in that you will not be allowed to steal or initiate force to get your way. Socialism killed around 100,000,000 people during the previous century and still does in hellholes like North Korea, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.
Finally, we turn to Atheism. As easy as it was establishing that Religion causes atrocities as a governor of people’s ethics and therefore actions, it is just as easy to defend atheism from that charge. Whatever your definition of Atheism (and we can include agnosticism), whether it be lacking a belief in god, believing that god does not exist, or thinking that the question can never be resolved, one thing is clear – Atheism provides absolutely no ethical pointers. There are people around who claim things like “Since I do not believe in god I realise that this is the only life we have and I must live it to the full and treat others well.”, but they are talking nonsense. The quote attributed to Dostoyevsky that "If God does not exist, everything is permitted." with its implicit ethical nihilism is just as valid a conclusion from simply not believing in god.
This means that when Atheists commit atrocities they are doing so with other justifications, and interestingly enough when we look at the most murderous atheists – Stalin, Mao, and so forth – we find that they were Socialists and so it was within Socialism that they found justification for their horrendous acts of mass-murder and terror.
Before we conclude we should tidy up one objection that could be raised with regard to Atheism. One might claim that although atheism itself does not cause people to turn bad, it leaves them with a moral vacuum, vulnerable to all sorts of dangerous beliefs to come and take root. These can be quickly dealt with. Firstly, by looking through the historical record, it is clear that having a religious morality is little defence against being a thoroughly unsavoury person. Also, the classic philosophical objections raise their heads as to just how religious morality is justified. Is following a religious commandment “good” because “god” has willed it, or are there external criteria by which religious morality can be judged. If the former then all sorts of horrific acts can be justified – just look at the Old Testament. If the latter, and there are external criteria to judge whether religious morals are good or not, then why not just ditch the untrue religious part and keep the perfectly good reality based moral justifications – as many secular reality-based ethical systems like Ayn Rand’s capitalistic Objectivism does, for example.
And there we have it. The supernatural and socialistic religions have within their very beings the justifications for unbelievable acts of terror both past, present, and regrettably future. On the other hand Atheism and Capitalism have no such problems, and when grounded by a coherent ethical justification they provide for humanity to flourish peacefully through consensual interaction.
Righto, here's Elton John