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What is socialism? Here's how 10 brilliant thinkers define it.
There is no one answer. But there are 10.
- Like many ideologies, socialism can be many things to different people.
- These ten quotes show what it means to ten different thinkers, including Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill.
- While they leave the question of what socialism is unsettled, they do offer us great insights.
Socialism is one of those words that has been used so many times to describe so many different ideologies that it has lost all meaning. That doesn't stop people from trying to describe it though. Here, we have ten quotes by ten brilliant thinkers, capitalist and socialist alike, describing what socialism is.
Che defines socialism
"For us, there is no valid definition of socialism other than the abolition of the exploitation of one human being by another." – Che Guevara
Ernesto "Che" Guevara was an Argentine revolutionary known for his participation in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. He was trained as a doctor and took a view of socialism as a cure for the disease of capitalism. His views of what the world would be like after the disease was cured were often as romantic as our view of him, but they all tend to center on the idea of a world free of exploitation and alienation which was inhabited by a more complete human being than was typical under capitalism.
Does Che Guevara still matter?
Albert Einstein on the need for a socialist economy
"The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor... I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals." – Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a physicist well known for his theory of relativity. He once wrote an article advancing his socialist political views. In this quote, he explains the socialist belief that the disorganization of capitalism and the vicious competition it demands leads to many social ills and that the cure for it is collective ownership.
Debs explains what he stands against
"I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence." – Eugene V. Debs
Eugene V. Debs was an American labor leader and socialist presidential candidate who got six percent of the vote in 1912.
In this quote, given to the court that convicted him for sedition for opposing American entry into WWI, he expresses a key socialist idea: That the wealth of society is produced by workers and the capitalist system unjustly allows that wealth to be concentrated in the hands of people who do nothing but own capital.
MLK on the distribution of wealth
"Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God's children."– Martin Luther King Jr.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American minister and activist well known for his participation in the civil rights movement.King was a democratic socialist who was as dedicated to economic justice as he was to civil rights. This quote speaks to a very basic socialist concept; that the current distribution of wealth is unjust and must be corrected through fundamental changes to our economic system. King, like many other socialists, bases this view on his Christian beliefs.
Wealth inequality is literally killing us. The economy should work for everyone.
No, socialists don't all love the USSR. Anton Pannekoek explains why.
"The system of production developed in Russia is State socialism. It is organized production, with the State as universal employer, master of the entire production apparatus. The workers are master of the means of production no more than under Western capitalism. They receive their wages and are exploited by the State as the only mammoth capitalist. So the name State capitalism can be applied with precisely the same meaning. The entirety of the ruling and leading bureaucracy of officials is the actual owner of the factories, the possessing class." – Anton Pannekoek
Pannekoek was a Dutch astronomer who became a leading left-communist philosopher. Here, he answers the question of if the USSR was socialist. For him, the answer is no, as the workers in Russia had no more control over the means of production than they did anywhere else.
Paul Foot on Marx
"Marx argued that all human history was dominated by a struggle for the wealth between classes, one of which took the wealth, and used it to exploit the others. As science and technology developed, so one exploiting class was replaced by another that used the resources of society more efficiently. The necessity for exploitation, he observed, had ended with capitalism. If the working class, the masses who cooperate to produce the wealth, could seize the means of production from the capitalist class, they could put an end to exploitation forever and run society on the lines of the famous slogan: 'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.'" – Paul Foot
Paul Foot was a British journalist. This explanation of the Marxist theory of history comes from his book Why You Should Be A Socialist. He explains very clearly both why Marxist socialists think history moves us toward a socialist system and why all socialists seek to replace capitalism with a system that doesn't rely on exploitation
Orwell reminds us that socialism has bigger goals than mere efficiency
"In every country in the world, a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy 'proving' that Socialism means no more than a planned state—capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the 'mystique' of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all." – George Orwell
George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair, an author best known for the totalitarian visions of 1984. It surprises many to learn that he was a dedicated democratic socialist. Much of his anti-totalitarian worldview was forged during the Spanish Civil War, where he fought for the Republicans and gained an admiration for the Anarcho-Syndicalists in Catalonia.In this part of his memoir, Homage to Catalonia, he nostalgically looks back on the seemingly utopian society the anarchists were building in Catalonia. He uses it to remind us that any definition of socialism cannot be reduced to merely planned capitalism; it must include some notion of equality and the dismantling of the class structure to truly be socialistic.
Today's surveillance society is way beyond Orwellian
A Scot lays out his goals
"Socialism proposes to dethrone the brute-god Mammon and to lift humanity into its place." – Keir Hardie
Keir Hardie was a Scottish labor organizer, activist, and one of the founders of the Labour Party in the UK. In this quote, he expresses the socialist belief that capitalist economies are organized in a way that focuses on producing more wealth for those who already have it at the expense of humanity in general and those who own no capital in particular.
Socialism, in theory, would instead be organized to meet the stated needs of people and their communities and focus on production for use.
Churchill's response to these utopian dreams
"Liberalism is not Socialism, and never will be. There is a great gulf fixed. It is not a gulf of method, it is a gulf of principle ... Socialism seeks to pull down wealth; Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely by reconciling them with public right. Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference ... Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly." – Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill was an English writer and statesman who served as prime minister during WWII. His attitude reflects his understanding of socialism as antithetical to liberalism, which he supported. His anti-socialist attitudes were so great he claimed that "some form of a Gestapo" would be needed to implement a democratic socialist government in the UK.
In 1945, Churchill was crushed in a national election by the socialist Clement Attlee, who proceeded to implement a democratic socialist program in the UK. This was accomplished without the use of a Gestapo or the dismantling of liberal institutions. Churchill became prime minister again in 1951, but left the welfare state alone and only privatized a few state enterprises.
Why capitalism will always outperform other economic models
The Weathermen remind us of the darker side of socialism
"Socialism is the total opposite of capitalism/imperialism. It is the rejection of empire and white supremacy. Socialism is the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the eradication of the social system based on profit. Socialism means control of the productive forces for the good of the whole community instead of the few who live on hilltops and in mansions. Socialism means priorities based on human need instead of corporate greed. Socialism creates the conditions for a decent and creative quality of life for all." – The Weathermen
The Weather Underground, also known as The Weathermen, were a left-wing terrorist group operating in the United States in the 1960s and '70s. This section from their manifesto Prairie Fire explains their view of what socialism is.
Notice that while they agree with the democratic socialists quoted above on the need to end exploitation and racism and show a desire to help the poor, they argue for violence and the creation of a dictatorship which is absent in the writings of many other socialist writers. While many thinkers on the left, such as Mao Zedong, and tons of them on the right, such as Milton Friedman, agree that socialism necessitates a dictatorship, this stance remains controversial and far from mainstream among modern Western socialists.
How super rich companies harm us all — and try to cover it up
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>