Seafaring Socialists…

From the always insightful Owen Cunningham, a copy of this Facebook post:

A lot of people who dislike socialism seem to regard it as Diet Communism. But I have a different take. Socialism is what you would get if you took capitalism, metaphorically treated it like seafaring, and honored the Maritime Law of the Sea.

The Maritime Law of the Sea says (among many other things), “Every qualified person who is the master of a vessel in any waters, on receiving a signal from any source that a person, a vessel or an aircraft is in distress, shall proceed with all speed to render assistance and shall, if possible, inform the persons in distress or the sender of the signal. The master of a vessel in any waters shall render assistance to every person who is found at sea and in danger of being lost.”

This passage is quite a transparent and unadulterated act of making altruism, even economically taxing altruism, the legal price of entry to all seafaring activity. Note how there is no wiggle room. It doesn’t say “if you hear a distress call, you are entitled to question its sincerity or severity” or “if you hear a distress call, you are entitled to judge the transmitters for having chosen an inferior vessel” or “if you hear a distress call, you are entitled to refuse to help if it would impede your own objectives” or “if you hear a distress call, you are entitled to refuse to help if it would impose economic penalties on you” or “if you hear a distress call, you are entitled to withhold assistance out of concern for the precedent it might set to other vessels” or “if you hear a distress call, you are entitled to withhold assistance on the principled grounds that assistance voluntarily given means more than assistance rendered compulsorily.” It says, if you hear a distress call from someone in danger of being lost, you are obligated to render assistance, period.

Capitalism is a huge ocean, a repository of just as much risk and reward as the actual ocean. Yet nobody questions the motives of those needing help on the actual ocean. They just shut the fuck up and help.

Socialism isn’t the idea that we ought to drain the ocean in pursuit of some nebulous concept of fairness. It’s the idea that, yes, people should be allowed to mind their own business and pursue their own interests – but only until they encounter a distress call. At that point, their number one goal should become helping the party in distress.

What is it about setting foot on a seagoing vessel that grants a person the right, which they apparently never enjoyed while mere landlubbers, to a universal expectation of assistance? Whatever the answer is, there is no way to show that it applies to the physical ocean but not the metaphorical ocean of capitalism.

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