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Carl Sagan asked if he’s a socialist

Sagan cuts through the crap in this 2 minute vid. And like many reporters, this one would rather move things along to science fiction rather than deal with reality:

20 Comments

  1. foolishboy says

    “We are using money for the wrong stuff.”

    The quote that everyone can agree on, I wish we could all agree that humanity (humane-ity?) should be the right stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think a good deal of this also has to do not just with politics, but also has to do with consumer capitalism. Consumerism appeals directly to our ego, to the part of us that craves and wants more, that wants status or just to keep buying the next thing. So, we end up “working jobs we hate to buy shit we don’t need” in the words of Tyler from Fight Club. Our efforts and resources, in other words, get directed to superfluous stuff rather than meeting real needs.

      I kick around the Bay Area in the winter, and it’s more than a little depressing to see how much money and technological talent goes into trying to develop the most addictive app. But Candy Crush is what’s going to get you the dollars, so that’s what you do in Silicon Valley: you invest in much of the same kind of mindless consumer shit that has been driving the American economy for decades.

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  2. That’s no ordinary interviewer — that’s Ted Turner, media mogul. Sagan didn’t directly answer the socialism question; he might have if Turner had asked a relevant follow-up. Maybe he can climb into his time machine and do a better job.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well he sort of did. Sagan said he didn’t know what socialism was. Do you think he was just being coy? I get the impression that Sagan was serious, that he really hadn’t investigated socialism enough to really competently comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right: Sagan did begin his answer by saying he didn’t know what socialism is. I’m not sure I do either for that matter. Sagan’s response suggests an approach that’s scientific and empirical, which makes sense for a scientist: identify specific problems and explore possible alternative theoretical and practical solutions rather than imposing from the top down a grand ideology or political “theory of everything.” It’s a good question though whether this sort of incremental approach can ever achieve radical change of a system that continually generates the problems that need fixing.

      Not a Ted Turner fan — he just used to show up on TV a lot so his face was instantly recognizable to me. I was a fan of Sagan’s Cosmos program.

      Liked by 2 people

      • John: “Sagan’s response suggests an approach that’s scientific and empirical, which makes sense for a scientist: identify specific problems and explore possible alternative theoretical and practical solutions rather than imposing from the top down a grand ideology or political “theory of everything.” It’s a good question though whether this sort of incremental approach can ever achieve radical change of a system that continually generates the problems that need fixing…”

        That seems to be our American point of tension, generally speaking, between the right and the left (or between the right and everyone else). Sagan identifies a problem (in this vid): poor healthcare for American babies. That’s simply not a problem, for many on the right. America has great healthcare, provided you have the means to purchase it on the “free” market. If you don’t have the means, that’s your fault, and any attempt to use government funds to provide better healthcare is an attempt by liberals for “social engineering” or some such interpretation.

        The ability to classify a problem as a non-problem is easy because there’s a greater narrative in place, a story about American Exceptionalism, how if you work hard and sacrifice you can have healthcare, and most anything you really want. When Occupy took to the streets, they were simply jealous of those who had means and wanted to take it from them. It’s pretty easy for pundits to dismiss any and all “problems” raised by liberals or the left or anyone else. It’s like lobbing softballs to Barry Bonds (or whoever it is that’s blasting the balls out of the park these days).

        So to me the narrative seems essential. What’s the greater story within which people find meaning in their lives? I don’t think liberals or the left has a story that is quite as simple and compelling as American Exceptionalism aka MAGA.

        That being said, I wish we could simply identify problems and solve them, but that’s not how the human being works. We are story animals, first and foremost. Logic is secondary, mostly used to reinforce the narrative that we have already subscribed to.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “that’s not how the human being works. We are story animals, first and foremost. Logic is secondary, mostly used to reinforce the narrative that we have already subscribed to.”

        Well I think that’s way too general. For example, I don’t believe it applies to me, at least not all the time. And I think it’s possible to counteract one’s own pre-existing biases, the preformulated narratives one has bought into without really giving it a second thought, by deploying reason and by considering real-world evidence. But humans are fallible, easily fooled, easily overwhelmed by too much information, would rather not think about things if they can avoid it. Bring on the AIs!

        Liked by 1 person

      • John: “Well I think that’s way too general. For example, I don’t believe it applies to me, at least not all the time. And I think it’s possible to counteract one’s own pre-existing biases, the preformulated narratives one has bought into without really giving it a second thought, by deploying reason and by considering real-world evidence. But humans are fallible, easily fooled, easily overwhelmed by too much information, would rather not think about things if they can avoid it. Bring on the AIs!”

        But I’m not talking about not being open to correcting biases, I’m thinking more about the cognitive context that seems to be the precondition for any kind of interpretation…That takes us into some of the territory that we’ve been exploring for years, of course….But I’m saying that being “story animals” means that we can’t ever use logic as a corrective to bias. I’m thinking more about how we define our “self” in relation to the information that we process.

        For example, you have just described the way you process the world, using “reason” and “real-world evidence” to “counteract one’s own pre-existing biases.” But isn’t that still a story about your self, your thinking/cognizing self? Isn’t that still some sort of narrative about how we ought to be suspicious of bias and use reason to counteract it?

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      • Is that a story I’m telling about myself? Yes, in the sense of formulating one’s experiences in some kind of coherent way, be it in words, numbers, drawings, skilled performances, etc. Someone could identify problems and solve them: that would be a self-story too, in this broader sense of story. Logic too is a kind of narrative. I’m actually on board with this broader view your proposing of what constitutes a story. A scientific hypothesis is a kind of story, in the sense that it attempts to explain some aspect of reality. A scientific experiment is a kind of theatrical story that’s performed.

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    • I think that centralized economic planning works, yes, when you just go by the numbers. It was really fascinating, but back in the eighties, just as the USSR was coming to an end, they started to see the results of prolonged studies on central planning, and by the numbers, central planning worked pretty well. It would probably work even better now, with far more advanced computing power. It isn’t at all difficult to imagine a system that more or less meets everyone needs…at least by the numbers. The thing is, we are human beings who really desire agency and choice. So, the ability to pop over to the hardware store and get whatever part you want is important. We like being able to choose between a few different breads and cereals, etc. It gives us a sense of agency, which is in large part why people like capitalism, even though capitalism is doing so much harm. Many folks are fine with having their politicians more or less beholden to corporations, so long as they can choose from all of those flavors at Baskin Robbins, or buy the pair of Levi’s that are just right, or purchase one of 99 bottles of beer on the wall. But I digress…

      From a numbers point of view, it seems like centralized economic planning is at least as good as the market, if not better. However, I’m not sold on it. My form of socialism would involve allowing the free market to operate on a small scale, via local artisans and small businesses, but I think that when you hit large-scale production or when dealing with healthcare or resource extraction or housing or infrastructure, I think that these should be public entities subject to democratic control, for the benefit of the people.

      Here’s a long article by Seth Ackerman at Jacobin. He outlines a perspective on this issue that resonates with me: https://jacobinmag.com/2012/12/the-red-and-the-black

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      • Good morning. I am not a big fan of “big organizations” and big government in paticular. I am, I guess if you need a label, more libertarian in that regard.

        My observations:

        1 – I don’t think we can trust the government. Too many examples of this but given the opportunity, they will lie to us.

        2 – The bigger you get, the less effective you are at most things. Not just government.

        3 – When possible, I prefer individual and local solutions, not national government solutions.

        Have a super day.

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    • No. I didn’t see that….I’m not sure what the answer is, though, when working within a capitalist system. Under capitalism land is commodified which basically means that developers and landlords and investors and realtors can profit from high housing costs, but of course this jacks up the cost of living for everyone. The rich can afford it, the middle class feels the squeeze but can still keep a roof over their heads (at least so far), but others go homeless….Within a socialist society, housing is basically considered a human right. Life matters more than investor profits, which gives a society more options for providing decent and affordable housing, options like public housing or land value taxes (cf. Georgism).

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      • Jonathan, I am in a learning mode. As you know from your Greek studies, Jesus calls on us to “repent”, meaning I need to radically change how I think and change my mind.

        I find it helpful to ask myself, “What if I am wrong?” I find I have biases and make lots of assumptions. But what if I’m wrong? Do I need to change my mind and what I am thinking?

        I do know that “solving” poverty and homelessness is very complicated. Agent X has a lot of great thoughts on this. I agree with Him that Jesus challenges us to not judge and just give directly to the poor. Of course, giving directly to the poor circumvents government, political and church orthodoxy and their canned solutions. I think Jesus is clear on that point so I support Agent X in his efforts.

        Again, thanks for taking time to help me learn. It is greatly appreciated.

        Be blessed. God is in a good mood.

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