Words That Frighten

I wrote this years ago and reblog it here because no one seems to have read it and the ideas I tried to clarify appear to be as relevant today as they were years ago — if not more so!

In every generation there are numerous words that take on pejorative overtones — many of which were never part of the term’s meaning in the first place. Not long ago, for instance, “discipline” was a positive concept, but it has become a bad thing thanks to progressive educators who ignore the fact that discipline is essential to clear thinking and the creation of art instead of junk. Another such term is “discrimination” which used to simply suggest the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, good paintings and good music, for example, from random paint scattered on canvas or mere noise. Indeed, it was a sign of an educated person who was regarded as discriminating.

In recent days, thanks to the Tea Party, the latest scare term is “socialism.” The political scare term used to be “communism,” but that term became out of fashion when the Soviet Union broke up and conciliation became the word of the day. But even when it was in use, most people would have been shocked to know that in its pure form communism was in close harmony with the teachings of Christ. Further,  the Soviet Union was never a communist nation by any stretch of the term. If anything, it was a socialistic dictatorship.

But let’s take a closer look at socialism. The term means, strictly speaking, that the state owns the means of production. That has not come to pass in this country, even with the recent federal bailouts of the banks and auto companies — initiated by a Republican President, by the way. But there certainly has been growing influence on the part of the government into economic circles, ever since F.D.R and his “New Deal.” Frequently these incursions were made to fill a void created by uncaring corporations, many to protect our environment which seems to be of no concern to large-scale polluters. Further such things as anti-trust laws do interfere with the unbridled competition that many think is essential to capitalism — an economic system, by the way, that has resulted in a society in which the 400 richest Americans now have a combined net worth greater than the lowest 150 million Americans. But even if President Obama has been accurately accused of promoting “socialism,” we might want to know if this would be such a terrible thing. Take the case of Finland, a decidedly socialistic nation.

Finns pay high taxes

“but they don’t spend all their money building $22 billion aircraft carriers, $8 billion submarines, $412 million fighter planes, or spend a million dollars a year keeping each soldier in foreign adventures such as Iraq and Afghanistan,”

as noted in a recent article by Ed Raymond in Duluth’s Weekly Reader. On the contrary, Finnish children are guaranteed essentials in the way of food and clothing, medical care, counseling and even taxi fare, if needed.

“All student health care is free for the family. The state provides three years of maternity leave for the mother and subsidized day care for parents. All five-year-olds attend a preschool program that emphasizes play and socializing. Ninety-seven percent of six-year-olds attend public pre-schools where they begin to study academics. ‘Real’ school begins at seven and is compulsory,”

In Finland teachers are held in high esteem, paid well, and are drawn from the top quartile of university students.  Last year in Finland there were 6.600 applicants for 660 empty teaching slots. The student-to-teacher ratio is seven to one. Contrast this with our over-crowded classrooms and an educational system that underpays and overworks teachers and holds them in low regard. Clearly, there is something here worth pondering, and it lends the lie to the notion that socialism is an inherently bad thing and something to be avoided at all costs.

Am I advocating socialism? No. But I am in total support of the Wall Street protesters who want a  system that taxes the wealthy as well as the poor; I support this President’s attempts to provide health care for those who cannot afford it; I vote for political candidates who seem to care more about people than about profits; but above all else, I oppose those who throw about terms they don’t understand in at an attempt to frighten rather than to advance understanding.


15 thoughts on “Words That Frighten

  1. While I am not an expert on socialism, I’ve been talking about these issues with my kids recently. While Finland’s form of government seems to work for them, I wonder how it would translate into the US which is 29 times larger. It seems to me that those in positions of authority in our government are far removed from middle America and the issues that reside there. The larger an entity gets, the more removed it seems to be. The larger our government grows, the more inefficiently it runs.

    As a family we recently watched “Imagineering” on Disney+ about the creation of the Disney corporation. It illustrated quite well how innovation is allowed to occur and even encouraged when not bogged down by bureaucracy. So, I would argue, perhaps not well, that increasing bureaucracy in the efforts to achieve what you outlined about (even though those are good things) would be difficult in our large nation.

    So, I’m now off to homeschool my kids….deep thoughts for the start to the morning.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kathy. I agree that as the bureaucracy gets larger the problems also grow and solutions are harder to find. But I would also say that “where there is a will there is a way.” A great many educators in this country simply deny that there is a problem and until they see what is going on there can be no solution — even one that might be hard to implement!

  2. Excellent post, Hugh! I’ve been pondering a post to set the record straight on exactly what “democratic socialism” means, but pondering is as far as I’ve gotten. Like you, I don’t advocate the state owning the means of production, but I definitely advocate putting people ahead of profit. Finland ranks far ahead of the U.S. in the World Happiness Index — in fact, Finland is #1, while the U.S. ranks #19 last year. Thank you for your thoughtful insights … I shall re-blog this one!

  3. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    For some time now, I have intended to write a post explaining the concept of “democratic socialism” – a term that has been demonized by republicans, used to scare voters away from certain democratic candidates – but obviously I haven’t yet gotten around to it. Meanwhile, our friend Hugh has revived an excellent post he wrote during President Obama’s presidency that makes some excellent points. Note what he says about Finland and also note that Finland ranks #1 on the World Happiness Index, while the U.S. is only at #19. Thank you, Hugh!!!

  4. Politics in America has used this scare tactic since forever. Unions, communists, socialists, anything that tries to control capitalism is to be feared by all, including those who would benefit most from being anti-capitalist. (Jill, what is the problem with government-owned industry?)
    Why should a few rich people lead luxurious lifestyles when so many are living in filth, disease, and hunger? Because the many are necessary to create great wealth for the few, through both cheap labour and overcharged consumerism. Poor people will fight over a job just to make a poverty wage, thus keeping those the labourers from joining together to sell their labour at a livable level. Meanwhile the rich build stocks of money that are unspendible in 5 lifetimes by their descendents.
    National economies cannot work when money is withheld from spending, and that is what the rich are doing. Prices increase as available money decreases, and this hurts the poor and poverty-stricken. As Trump and his cronies pay less taxes, they are increasing the financial burden on those less wealthy.
    I should be amazed that the have-nots cannot see this, except that the haves spend fortunes on telling their wage-slaves how good they have it, who buy it hook, line, and sinker. And that just makes me sick!

  5. The Finnish system would be perfect if promoted by most Democratic nations.In fact the Scandinavian systems with teaching, pensions and health care would all be worth looking at.They have a much higher ‘Happiness’ percentage than many in the West.

  6. Hugh, fear words are shortcuts to people with poor arguments. They can fit nicely on a bumper sticker. Unfortunately, they work. One of my favorites was the “failed stimulus” which worked so well, even Democrats believed it. But, it was not true. The Obama and Bush era stimulus actually was accretive to the economy.


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