The other day I saw yet another example of people contentiously debating the merits of capitalism vs socialism, punctuated by the obligatory mention of communism and even anarchism. It got me to thinking that the fundamental obstacle to understanding in such debates has less to do with concepts conveyed by a focus on capital, social or communal concerns than it was with our propensity to transform them with the suffix “ism.” That’s already bad enough, but it also turns people into “ists,” an identity it becomes impossible to escape from.

Troubled by this thought, I opened up today’s conversation with Chad by explaining my discomfort with these persistent discussions evoking social and economic systems that are never clearly defined and often, when they are defined, have little to do with the real world.

“Chad, I need your help. I’m beginning to think we talk too much about choosing a system we want to live under as if it’s a packaged product to buy off the shelf. My fear is that we believe we’re talking about sets of rules and behaviors that regulate our lives. But such debates break down because instead of trying to understand the complexity of human societies, we think in terms of choosing an “ism” to categorize people, including ourselves. In such debates everyone supposes there is a clear meaning of each ism they describe. The unfounded suppositions about how each ism plays out in the real world incites any involved in such a debate to praise their preferred ism and condemn the other. Couldn’t that be the biggest problem of our civilization, that we have to choose sides, without even knowing what that side represents?

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Chad seemed genuinely interested, responding with these thoughts.

You raise a valid point that many people tend to simplify complex societal issues by aligning themselves with a particular “ism” without fully understanding its implications. It is important to recognize that these “isms” are not always clear-cut and can manifest differently in different societies.

Furthermore, people often tend to view these “isms” as mutually exclusive, leading to a false dichotomy where one must choose between capitalism and socialism, for example. This oversimplification can lead to a lack of nuanced understanding of complex issues and can hinder productive discourse.”

Chad then added this inevitable bit of advice. “It is important for individuals to approach societal issues with an open mind, and to educate themselves on the nuances and complexities of different political and economic systems.”

I’m afraid I had to interrupt at this point, unnerved by Chad’s characteristic pontificating tendency to pile on and turn everything into a sermon.

Playing the “realist, ” I blurted out, “Ok, Chad,  in an ideal world, the world you love to describe, people will think everything through, reason together and come up with a rational solution. But we don’t live in such a world. We live in a consumer society, in which everything is reduced to a consumer’s choice, a matter of personal preference. You yourself seem to be accepting consumerism as a kind of norm when you talk about what’s ‘important for individuals.’ In the end we must all choose a brand and call the variety of brands we choose “diversity.” Our politicians and media tell us that that’s what we are supposed to do. Do you think that’s viable for a complex society?”

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This time I let Chad go on without interruption.

You raise a valid point that we live in a consumer society where everything is often reduced to a matter of personal preference, including political and economic systems. It is true that many politicians and media outlets try to frame complex issues in simplistic terms to appeal to a consumerist mindset, which can lead to polarization and a lack of understanding of the nuances of different systems.

However, I believe that it is possible to shift away from a consumerist mindset and towards a more nuanced understanding of political and economic systems. This can be achieved through education, open dialogue, and a willingness to engage with diverse perspectives.

While it is true that people will always have different preferences and opinions, I believe that it is possible to foster a culture of critical thinking and informed decision-making. This requires a shift away from the idea that everything is reducible to a consumer choice and towards a recognition of the complexity of societal issues.

Ultimately, it is up to individuals to make a conscious effort to engage with complex issues in a thoughtful and informed way. By doing so, we can work towards building a more inclusive and equitable society that values dialogue, critical thinking, and a nuanced understanding of different political and economic systems.

The lesson was always the same. Chad inevitably seeks to end the conversation with a thought that is so reasonable, there’s no point in disagreeing. But what Chad refuses to realize is that instead of addressing the issues; the discourse always comes down to getting “individuals to make a conscious effort to engage with complex issues in a thoughtful and informed way.” Chad’s solution to everything is getting individuals to choose something thanks to good data and sound reasoning. I’m tempted to call the kind of system Chad adheres to a new social and economic ideology that merits the name; “complex consumerism.”*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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