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  Open Society, Take Two
Social Justice Posted by Xnoubis on December 10, 2000 @ 11:36 AM
from the kaaba-chameleon dept.

Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism
by George Soros
Public Affairs, NY: 2000. 369 pages.
ISBN: 1586480197

George Soros has been working on this book for most of his life. It was unfinished when Russia defaulted on its internal debt in 1998, but the author felt that the ensuing financial crisis compelled him to get his message out in a hurry. He accordingly published a preliminary form of the book as The Crisis of Global Capitalism. As interesting as his ideas were, the premature condition of the work was quite evident.

It turned out that he was mistaken about the imminent demise of the international financial system. So he's had the opportunity to actually complete the book and reissue it under the title Open Society. This version is the one to read.


Soros made his fortune as an investor, then later became well known for his philanthropy. His foundations played an important role in the breakup of the Soviet Union and the development of functioning democracies in Eastern Europe. Within the United States, his Lindesmith Center has poured substantial resources into countering the draconian War on Drugs, backing legislation for medical marijuana, promoting reduced penalties for drug "offenders," and supporting treatment centers across the country.

But all of his diverse activities have been rooted in his philosophy of the open society, which he attempts for the first time to fully express in this book. The term "open society" was originally coined by Henri Bergson (MacGregor Mathers' brother-in-law, incidentally), but brought to prominence by Karl Popper in his most famous work, The Open Society and Its Enemies. Popper contrasted social orders that attempt to impose an official viewpoint upon its members (such as Fascism and Marxism) with orders that allow for many alternative viewpoints, which he referred to as open societies. As Soros describes it, the open society is one where no one is held to be in possession of the ultimate truth, as human beings are inherently fallible. Therefore everyone is entitled to their view, and no one is immune from criticism.

I first became aware of Soros when his essay, "The Capitalist Threat" (which served as a kind of seed for the present book) was published in the February 1997 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. In it, he espoused an update of Popper's concerns. Authoritarian regimes, he said, were no longer the greatest threat to the freedom of the individual promoted by the open society. Instead, the single-minded pursuit of profit and individual interest at the expense of the common good has erected a tyranny of a different kind, one that imperils the freedoms of all but the most wealthy of humanity.

His argument was based on a detailed and sophisticated philosophical analysis only hinted at in the original article. But Open Society describes his position in much greater depth. He uses the concept of reflexivity to show how our knowledge is inherently imperfect when our beliefs can influence what we observe. He explores the conflicts between market values and social values. He provides an in-depth critique of the current dogma of laissez-faire capitalism (which he calls "market fundamentalism"), including an analysis of the dynamics between the center and the periphery of the global capitalist system.

Most interestingly, he proposes an Open Society Alliance, wherein democratic states would coordinate their efforts to promote a global open society, asserting the civil and human rights of all people. But great changes will be required to meet this lofty goal.

While the United States views itself as the upholder of lofty principles, others merely see the arrogance of power. It may be shocking to say, but I believe that the current unilateralist posture of the United States constitutes a serious threat to the peace and prosperity of the world. Yet the United States could easily become a powerful force for the good, simply by shifting from a unilateral to a multilateral approach. The world needs some rules and standards of behavior. If the United States were prepared to abide by the rules, it could take the lead in establishing them.

The global open society is, I believe, the vision of the emerging world order most consistent with Thelema. Authoritarianism is unbalanced Severity. Market fundamentalism is unbalanced Mercy, which allows and abets the oppression of the individual by the wealthy and powerful.

Thelema respects the sovereignty of the individual will. This respect is needed for the accomplishment of the open society; the open society is the natural expression of this respect.



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    Re: Open Society, Take Two
    by Rafael Kitover on Monday December 11, @12:24AM
    While I have not read this book, and am very interested in his views on the wrongs of laissez-faire economics (especially when coming from such a successful investor), my personal belief system is closest to that held by the Libertarian Party. The platform is simple and takes many things into consideration (http://www.lp.org/issues/platform/).

    Also Dr. Mary Ruwart's book "Healing Our World" is pretty amazing in that respect and answers just about any complaints people have about Libertarianism, there is a copy of it on http://www.ruwart.com/

    I was also very inspired by Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", before I ever heard about Thelema. I don't think we'd have ever had Libertarianism without her.

    A truly open society would not need force (of government) to organize the sort of structure whereby an individual would be protected from the powerful, because individual creativity is the greatest economic asset. The powerful then, have an interest in protecting that creativity and thereby expanding the potential of the market.

    There should also not be a fundamental distinction between the interests of an individual and that of the whole, because it is every rational being's desire for the world to become better for themselves and any that follow.

    • Re: Open Society, Take Two
      by Xnoubis on Monday December 11, @04:47PM
      I feel that Libertarianism fails to take many things into consideration. My philosophy is Libertarian in that I believe that individual liberty should be the first priority of the social order. But I don't accept the Libertarian dictum that individual liberty is necessarily increased as the power of government is reduced. Without any government at all, people have no recourse against the oppression of brute force exercised by a few, and so freedom is diminished. The role of government is to set up a system of agreed upon restraints for the defense of individual liberty. Make the government too strong, and authoritarianism eclipses liberty. Make the government too weak, and liberty is eclipsed through other agencies.

      Conservatives tend to fault the oppressive excesses of government. Liberals tend to fault the excesses of business. Individual liberty should be the yardstick by which we measure the success of our political system. What puzzles me about the Libertarian movement is the disregard for the threat that Big Business poses to individual liberty.

      One of Soros' ideas that I find useful in this regard is his distinction between the center of the global capitalist system and the periphery. The United States is in the center, and to a lesser extent, the U.K., Europe, and Japan. The nations of the third and fourth worlds are at the periphery. The center calls the shots, and reaps most of the benefits. The periphery possesses little power and few options. Libertarianism, it seems to me, is committed to the liberty of those in the center, and apathetic to the liberty of those in the periphery.

      I wasn't familiar with Dr. Ruwart's book; I'll check it out.

      It seems to me that Ayn Rand's philosophy holds that any amount of suffering on the part of the collective is justified if it enables the Man of Ability to go about his business. This separation of humanity into those whose rights matter (i.e., me, and those who I think are on the ball) and those whose rights are negligible (i.e., everybody else) is extremely contrary to my understanding of Thelema. It is quite compatible with the doctrines of Satanism, and so it was no surprise to me that the Ayn Rand Institute was listed first in the Satanic Philosophy page of the 600 Club.

      (That is by no means intended as a dismissal. Thelema and Satanism have some things in common, after all. I do think, though, that the two doctrines diverge in their treatment of my will vs. Will, and that this is reflected in political philosophy.)

      > The powerful then, have an interest in
      > protecting that creativity

      Well, the powerful have many interests. Soros' argument is that modern conditions compel corporations to pursue short-term profit above all else; corporations that do otherwise perish. Does the current conduct of the powerful inspire trust in you? How about if you lived as an ordinary citizen in Indonesia?

      > it is every rational being's desire for the
      > world to become better for themselves and any
      > that follow

      But people are, by and large, not rational. It is in the interests of the powerful to encourage that irrationality, an encouragement that they've proven enormously successful at.

      Aside from that, there is often a contradiction between the interests of an individual and the common interest. For an example from my own life, I used to work in a typesetting company whose principle client was a major California health insurance provider. A voter initiative was proposed that would have created a single-payer system for the state. I supported it, even though its passage would have put me out of work. But if I had had a family to support, and lived in a place where jobs were hard to come by, I would have felt compelled to work against the initiative, my principles notwithstanding. "My god! I'm a special interest!"


      • Re: Open Society, Take Two
        by Rafael Kitover on Wednesday December 13, @05:24PM
        Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law,


        Without any government at all, people have no recourse against the oppression of brute force exercised by a few, and so freedom is diminished.


        That isn't necessarily true. The labor/unionization movement the early 20th century sprang out of necessity and managed to hold its own. When left to its own, society is able, especially in modern times to organize itself to the ends it seeks. The question then becomes, do we allow nature and market forces to organize competing structures according to necessity, or should some aspects of our lives be centrally controlled by beuracracy and democracy? Not even that much democracy, as things stand right now.

        Any large structures (corporations, associations, etc.) suffer from many of the same problems as government. But we choose to join them or to buy from them, and can compete with them.


        The role of government is to set up a system ofagreed upon restraints for the defense individual liberty.


        As neither Rand nor the LP are anarchists, here we agree, but the difference is the extent. We need rudimentary criminal laws to protect us and our property. Though an anarchist would say even these structures can come about naturally.


        What puzzles me about the Libertarian movement is the disregard for the threat that Big Business poses to individual liberty.


        A great deal of Big Business behavior that we find questionable is traced through corruption and control of government. Once this is not possible, Big Business is left to face the individual, and any groups he chooses to mobilize, on its own terms. Bug Business is only as powerful as its coffers.


        It seems to me that Ayn Rand's philosophy holds that any amount of suffering on the part of the collective is justified if it enables the
        Man of Ability to go about his business.


        If that were it, it would not be nearly as popular. There are many Objectivism clubs around our campuses, I wish there were any Stoicism clubs :)

        A summary is here: http://www.aynrand.org/objectivism/io.html

        Through her eyes, you see suffering caused by the use of force to limit the creativity of the individual. As this creativity is essential for economic prosperity. Man is a heroic being, and this is very much compatible with Thelema. A Libertarian would say that if a truly Libertarian society there would be an unprecedented amount of prosperity, and any structure necessary to ease suffering would naturally arise, as it is not in our interest to see it.

        Ruwart's column in the Liberator online, "Short Answers to Tough Questions", is archived here:

        http://www.self-gov.org/ruwart/

        See this in particular wrt. to suffering:

        http://www.self-gov.org/ruwart/q0091.html

        She writes:


        "Libertarian societies also create immense wealth primarily because their poor are not excluded from the labor market. Studies show that the closer a country is to the libertarian ideal, the more even is its distribution of wealth (i.e., the poor are better off). Thus, a libertarian society does very well by its poor -- automatically.

        "In countries with the desperate poverty that you speak of, government regulations make it difficult for a poor person to climb the Ladder of Affluence. Land and jobs can only be had by those wealthy enough to jump the regulatory hurdles. Eliminating the cause of poverty (i.e., government barriers to working) is the best help that we can give to the unfortunate.


        The periphery nations will have to be the periphery nations until their rapidly evolving infrastructures allow them to be on-par with our own economies. This is what is happening in India, China, etc.. Of course, it never hurts to help, but this is entirely up to us.


        Well, the powerful have many interests. Soros' argument is that modern conditions compel corporations to pursue short-term profit above all else; corporations that do otherwise perish.


        Then those conditions must evolve in accordance with nature, but at least corporations would have less power through outright corruption.


        Aside from that, there is often a contradiction between the interests of an individual and the common interest. For an example from my own life, I used to work in a typesetting company whose principle client was a major California health insurance provider. A voter initiative was proposed that would have created a single-payer system for the state. I supported it, even though its passage would have put me out of work. But if I had had a family to support, and lived in a place where jobs were hard to come by, I would have felt compelled to work against the initiative, my principles notwithstanding. "My god! I'm a special interest!"


        Good point, but in a Libertarian society this would not even be an option. The whole managed care field would be much simpler, more open and work better without the myriad regulations that are supposed to improve it. Consumer advocates usually do all the work anyway, not government investigations.

        That is, if one's interest come into conflict with the whole, the whole is bigger and there are no loopholes to hide behind.

        Love is the Law, Love under Will


        • Re: Open Society, Take Two
          by Xnoubis on Thursday December 14, @09:04PM
          > The labor/unionization movement the early 20th
          > century sprang out of necessity and managed to
          > hold its own.

          And it wouldn't have been able to without the rule of law, particularly the legal constraints preventing companies from pursuing their interests with all of the force available to them.

          > When left to its own, society is able,
          > especially in modern times to organize itself to
          > the ends it seeks.

          It's hard to know what a society 'left on its own' would be. If you mean a society that has no institutions empowered to constrain individuals in the common interest, I can't think of an example.

          Individuals are capable of pursuing their own interests when left to their own devices. But this isn't sufficient for the pursuit of the common interest. The protection of workers, of minorities, and of the environment (for example) is not accomplished through the marketplace. Soros writes, "The preservation of the market mechanism itself is one such common interest. Market participants compete not to preserve competition but to win; if they could, they would eliminate competition."

          > We need rudimentary criminal laws to protect us
          > and our property.

          This isn't so far from what I'm saying, except that there are other rights besides property, such as freedom of speech, or equal opportunity. There are huge areas of law that are unnecessarily intrusive and should be struck down. But there are other areas, particularly concerning multinational corporations, where even rudimentary criminal laws are not in place, and need to be developed.

          > A great deal of Big Business behavior that we
          > find questionable is traced through corruption
          > and control of government.

          I'm not convinced of that. There are collusions between business and government, but these seem to be only a portion of the misdeeds of business.

          If I might use an analogy, it is as if we were children on a school playground set upon by bullies, supposedly overseen by teachers who weren't really watching at all. It sounds to me like you're saying, "Those bullies would be playing nicely, if only those teachers weren't there!" The analogy is imperfect (we, after all, hire and fire the teachers), but perhaps it illustrates my point.

          > Once this is not possible, Big Business is left
          > to face the individual, and any groups he
          > chooses to mobilize, on its own terms.

          Without government regulation, all that a business has to do is keep its public image intact, even if it pursues its interests at great cost to the common good. This is facilitated by the consolidation of media outlets under corporate control.

          > Bug Business is only as powerful as its coffers.

          That's a bit like saying, "A sniper is only as deadly as his bullets!"

          > This is what is happening in India, China, etc.

          India and China are not such typical examples of the periphery as the nations of Latin America, Africa, and the countries hit hardest by the 'Asian flu' economic downturn. The global capitalist system has tended to strip these peripheral nations of money and resources while exploiting their labor. We are just now beginning programs of debt relief and discussions about reforming international financial institutions, which may eventually alleviate some of this exploitation. To a large extent, Open Society is an exploration of this process of reform.


      • Re: Open Society, Take Two
        by Ataniell Rising on Saturday March 30, @06:21PM
        I don't think there *is* a single Thelemic political POV; although I lean more toward the libertarian/objectivist POV than otherwise, I have (to my endless amazement) met socialist Thelemites and Thelemites who consider themselves "Green" (whatever that means; it seems to mean anything from recycling and other sensible behaviors all the way to believing that the planet is actually the Goddess Gaia and that we are valuable insofar only as "part" of the whole, a philosophy to which I am vehemently opposed.)


    Re: Open Society, Take Two
    by Nexist on Monday December 11, @12:16PM
    Mayhaps I am too paranoid, but I fear internationalism. Sure, Soros' model sounds pretty good, and aside from a few possible straitjackets for indigeneous cultures, it is pretty good. Unfortunately, the model is corruptable, & then we would find out that in reality, the Authoritarianism was always there, just latent in its malevolence.
    A'll add the book to my list, but while I appreciate his efforts (via th eLindesmith & Soros Centers), I am wary of his philosophy.

    • Re: Open Society, Take Two
      by Xnoubis on Monday December 11, @10:35PM
      The problem is, there is already an international economic order with tremendous power, but there is no international legal or political order to constrain its excesses. There is indeed much to fear about globalization, but can we go back? If not, then we need to move forward with our principles intact. In the midst of the injustices, there may be an opportunity available now to promote freedom on a global scale, even as there has been an opportunity to create an integrated global economy. Our efforts will be flawed, but matters will become even more deeply flawed if we do nothing.

      It is not, I think, a question of erecting an Authority to overrule a functioning system of checks and balances, but rather an attempt to restore checks and balances to a system run amok.

      I'm not sure that I understand where you see the threat to indigeneous cultures in Soros' philosophy. Such cultures have a rough time ahead of them in any event, but they might be better served by a society that values individual freedom than by the profit-driven system that we have now.



     
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