Monday, April 29, 2024

#120 / "-ISM" is Division


The Hoover Institution is offering you a free course. Be clear, however. Stanford University, where The Hoover Institution is physically located, will not be conferring a degree to commemorate your completion of the course. Still, you may want to sign up.

Incidentally, whenever I think of The Hoover Institution, I immediately think of Hoover Tower, one of the iconic, and some say, "priapic," features of the Stanford campus. I called that campus "home" for about eight years or so, thorough my undergraduate years, and through law school, not to mention my many excursions to the campus while I was growing up in Palo Alto. Anyway, if you are ever in the vicinity, and are lost, head for the following landmark, which is close to the center of what's happening at Stanford. The new course, I am sorry to say, will be taught "online" only, which means that you are not going to be seeing Hoover Tower yourself, as you navigate what The Hoover Institution is going to tell you about "socialism" and "capitalism." If you haven't ever been to the Stanford campus (and gone up Hoover Tower) consider a special visit!

Hoover Tower
Some like "socialism," and some don't. Ditto for "capitalism." I'm betting that the Hoover Institution is going to emphasize the positive features of "capitalism," and the negative features of "socialism," but you'll have to take the course yourself to find out. 

Rather than come down as either "pro" or "con" on "capitalism" and on "socialism," let me take a different position, consistent with the teachings of my mother. Incidentally, my mother also did not confer any academic degree, upon my completion of her extensive, and extremely worthwhile course, "Childhood to Adulthood, 101." 

Here is what my Mother said: 

Comparisons Are Odious

I don't think I am wrong to deduce that the essence of what The Hoover Institution is going to do, in its upcoming course, is to "compare" the two economic systems named in the course title. Whenever "-isms" are discussed, the purpose is generally to "compare and contrast." Some "isms" are considered good, and some bad, depending on who is teaching the course, or leading the discussion, or making the comparisons implicit in a review of the "system" being discussed and judged. 

I would like to suggest that the most important way to understand and deal with the world is not through picking the best "ism." Instead, I suggest talking about the pluses and minuses of concrete proposals, in specific terms, without categorizing and comparing the "systems" of which they are held to be examples. For instance, what about free health care for all? There are some positives and negatives, don't you think? The relevant "ism" isn't the point. My Mother's observation, reported above, was intended to alert her students (one of whom was me) that we should focus our discussion and analysis on the features of whatever we are studying, instead of trying to "classify" the features into a system, and into an "ism," and then compare the good "isms" to the bad "isms." 

I may be talking you out of taking that Hoover Institution course. Still, if you want to give it a shot, it is supposed to be free. 

Making an educational activity "free" could be called "socialism," you know. Or, maybe something else. And the best thing (per my Mother) is to think about things without reference to the "ism" to which they are assigned!

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