Been listening to Jordan Peterson a lot recently. Specifically thinking about the specter of Marxism that he’s afraid will re-assail the world. Here are my thoughts:
There is much in Socialism that is wicked and perverse, and for the greater part I stand with Jordan B Peterson in his rejection of communism, both on the basis of its fruits and of its intellectual bankruptcy. However, there is one (at least) spot in which I have departed from this sage, and in which I find some truth in socialism, and it is in the matter of Intellectual Property.
There would not be any adherence to any system of thought if it did not have some truth in it and – though I cannot claim this is all the truth – there is at least some truth in the idea that there are some goods which should be held in common. Now, what I mean by “goods” are “things that are good” not necessarily physical goods. I think this is where socialism goes dreadfully wrong, is that it is a materialist socialism. I think what we need is an intellectual socialism in the sense that the goods which we should be holding in common are intellectual goods.
My argument boils down to an argument against Intellectual Property, which has been made elsewhere and better by better minds than mine. But I have not seen anywhere this parallel drawn between socialism and Intellectual Property. It keeps leaping out at me! In Dr. Peterson’s lectures. In arguments I hear made in favor of communism. It keeps occurring to me that if socialism is so wrong it should be easy to refute. But it proves uneasy to destroy. And I think this may be the reason; Insofar as the West has accepted the idea of Intellectual Property as being a valid target for the protection of the state it is in opposition to the truth and will always call forth the spectre of Socialism.
Now, I think the socialists are also gravely mistaken – as I said – if their socialism is directed toward material things because it seems the only good which is appropriately – and possibly even – shared in common are those things not physical, ideas and – if we may go so far – spiritual goods. I don’t think spiritual goods need to enter into it, the intellectual is enough for this distinction. Dr. Peterson has said several times that his feeling is that “the academy should reclaim its intellectual property” and I think that is an error on his part, that the intellectual property should be distributed; It should be shared to all. (As an aside, JBP doesn’t actually appear to believe this should mean restricting access. His making his lectures freely available demonstrates that he believes in some other meaning of “Intellectual Property” than the one that has been enshrined in law in the West.)
As the socialist doctrines proclaim “From each according to his ability. To each according to his need.” In phyiscal things this is impossible because when you take a physical good from one they no longer posses it. If you want to give it to someone else, you have to steal it, or at least convince the person to give it up which – in the case of communism especially – often means to slay them so that they no longer have any hold on it. But this does not apply to intellectual goods! Intellectual goods may be given and retained at once; At the same time surrendered and kept.
The doctrines of socialism can apply in a system of Intellectual Property, in the sense that intellectual property can by held in common, can be produced by those best able to produce it, and can be accepted by those in need of accepting it. With physical goods, Bastiat – the economist of France – calls it “plunder”. To take unjustly by force what belongs to another. This is where I see most of the efforts of socialism directed. But if we can transmute the spirit of socialism to apply to the intellectual – and the intellectual only – then I think that we will have achieved a great good.
I’d like to end with a reading from the book of Proverbs Chapter 3. The entire chapter reading can be found at Bible.tryop.com
Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm. Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways. For the froward is abomination to the LORD: but his secret is with the righteous. The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just. Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly. The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.Proverbs Chapter 3