Category Archives: Philosophy

What Makes Socialism So Attractive?

Evolution has wired our brains for it, unfortunately.

The chief problem, he suggested, is that many people are beguiled by “romantic socialism”—that is, they imagine what their personal lives would be like if everyone shared and treated one another like family. We evolved in small bands that were an individual’s only protection from starvation, victimization, and inter-group aggression. People feel vulnerable if their band does not exist. Such sentiments are more or less appropriate when people lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers composed mostly of kin, but they fail spectacularly when navigating a world of strangers cooperating in global markets.

Tooby also argued that markets make intellectuals irrelevant. Consequently, academics have a huge bias against spontaneous order and the basic goal of most social science is to critique the social institutions associated with market-based society.

More darkly, Tooby pointed out that political entrepreneurs know how to appeal to romantic socialist sentiments as a way to establish themselves in power. The evolved psychological propensity toward romantic socialism facilitates political coalitions that oppose free-market societies. Since such coalitions are organized around romantically appealing ideas, any heresy is treated as betrayal. If things are not going well (and they never are in full-blown socialist societies) and since the ideology cannot be wrong, evildoers are undermining progress and must be found and punished (think kulaks and the Gulag). Such coalitions tend to revert to primitive zero-sum thinking: If there is something you don’t get that means that someone took it from you. The result is, according to Tooby, that there really are those who are willing to make poor people worse off in order to make rich people worse off.

In terms of defining socialism, I don’t make a distinction between it and Marxism, which was simply a failed attempt to explain economics and human nature scientifically. Simply put, though it’s more complex, it is the belief that one person can know better than another what that other person “needs,” and should have the power to ensure that those “needs” are met.

Getting Over “Apolloism”

I’m heading back to California tomorrow, for the first time in about six weeks (the longest I’ve been away from home since I moved back in 2009), but meanwhile, my long-awaited piece in The New Atlantis is on line.

[Update a few minutes later]

Sorry, that’s just a preview, unless you’re a subscriber. The full piece will be free on line in the future, but I’m not sure when.

“Wise Guidelines” For Space Policy

At first glance, these suggestions from my long-time friend Linda Billings seem sort of anodyne, but she gives away the game at the end:

Deep in my brain and in my heart I think and feel that colonizing other planets and exploiting extraterrestrial resources would be immoral at this stage of human development. I’m not at all sure that Eilene Galloway would agree with me. I wish I could talk with her about it.

I’m pretty sure that Eilene would disagree. I know for certain that I do.

Why NASA Human Spaceflight?

Jeff Foust writes that that’s the question the media should be asking of the presidential campaigns. I agree; until we know why we’re doing it, it’s not possible to come up with sensible way of how to do it.

And this is an interesting parenthetical:

…perhaps, the answer would be not to spend the money at all: in the mid-2000s, the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative members of the House of Representatives, proposed cutting funding for President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration as part of a broader set of spending cuts. The chairman of the committee at the time? Then-Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, now Trump’s running mate.

Though there’s no requirement that it be the case, historically, the vice president has generally been responsible for space policy (going back to Johnson), though that has been much less the case in the second Bush and Obama administrations (thankfully, in the case of the latter).