Learning and Socialism

My cab driver this morning was from Haiti.  It was refreshing, on this trip to La Guardia, to get some variety from the Ethiopian/Eritrean mix you find in DC.

Jean Marie lost two nephews and a niece in the earthquake.  One nephew had been in law school; the other, a doctor.  Family scheduled the funerals for next week, the earliest possible time the morgue can release these three, amongst three hundred thousand, bodies for burial.

Jean Marie had been a sociology professor in Port-au-Prince.  He took great pleasure in teaching us this morning.

I earned a B+ from Jean Marie.  We talked about the de facto caste system capitalism imposes.  How Americans are solipsistic, selfish in a way that every other country is not.

Granted, Jean Marie has spent all 29 of his stateside years driving a cab in New York City.  If there’s any position on earth more prone to subjecting a man to the full measure of his humility, this is it.  Indeed, from his perspective it’s no wonder he sees Americans as one monolithic sonofabitch.

My final exam in Jean Marie’s class came as a discussion on socialism. Jean Marie agrees that capitalism is better at large in the world.  Still, though, he is determined to spend “periods at intervals” living in socialism.

Interesting, no?  The idea of socialism as a state of mind that cannot exist independent of capitalism, but that’s a refreshing way to mix it up once in awhile

I agree completely, I told JM.  I am a conservative and a capitalist, but I crave cooperation and unselfish sharing.  I tend towards academia, which is necessarily a social-mentality idea-sharing pool where nobody has any money.  And anyone I’ve ever dated can quote from my treatise on the Communism of Family, where Randian transactional relationships should cede to loving, sharing, unselfish pooled well-being.

JM denied me the A bc I could not agree that gov’t imposition is necessary – or even remotely beneficial – to the “cooperation” side of socialism.  Even the sharing he remembers from Haiti – where everyone delivers a daily plate of whatever’s-for-dinner to each neighbor – that has nothing to do w/ government.  In fact, Good Samaritan laws may well – anecdotally – tamp that spirit of generosity.

We debated only cursorily – I was more interested in what JM had to teach than in probing the weak spots in his argument s – but it’s fantastic to learn something quite so valuable without having to work hard for it.  Even as JM got excited and began gesticulating in ways not conducive to safe travel, it was a huge bonus on this airport run to find a window into how the Haitian educated elite – the ones comprising Hispanola’s Brain Drain – view class, race, and history.

“America never thought of Haiti at all until the earthquake,” JM said.

“But Americans don’t think of anyone.  It’s not personal, against Haiti.  We don’t think of Canada either, or Holland.”

America profits pretty spectacularly from our position as Shining City on a Hill.  But perhaps the left-leaning periods in our history are indeed Americans’ way of taking Jean Marie’s suggestion and delving into those intervals of socialism.  Perhaps there are some benefits – political or otherwise – to looking around a bit before the earthquake hits.

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