Dalrymple: The Wilder Shores of Marx
This anecdote from Dalrymple’s visit to North Korea is quite striking and haunting—make certain you read the entire post over at The Skeptical Doctor. But I’m excerpting one of his two theses, because I so rarely see anyone making this point, and I think it’s open for discussion. While I recognize that Christians are not for greed, and I decry the massive material consumption and lust of our own American culture, I tend to fall on the Dalyrymple side of the conflict “moral preference,” believing that lustful material [and other] consumption has more to do with other deserts of the human heart, then with the intrinsic immorality of material abundance:
The Department Store Number 1 was so extraordinary that I had to talk to someone about it. But the young communist from Glasgow to whom I described it simply exclaimed: ‘So what! Plenty of people go to Harrods without buying anything, just to look.’ Nevertheless, I returned twice to Department Store Number 1 because, in my opinion, it had as many layers of meaning as a great novel, and every time one visited it one realised - as on re-reading Dickens or Tolstoy - that one had missed something from the time before.
Department Store Number 1 was a tacit admission of the desirability of an abundance of material goods, consumption of which was very much a proper goal of mankind. Such an admission of the obvious would not have been in any way remarkable were it not that socialists so frequently deny it, criticising liberal capitalist democracy because of its wastefulness and its inculcation of artificial desires in its citizens, thereby obscuring their ‘true’ interests. By stocking Department Store Number 1 with as many goods as they could find, in order to impress foreign visitors, the North Koreans admitted that material plenty was morally preferable to shortage, and that scarcity was not a sign of abstemious virtue; rather it was proof of economic inefficiency. Choice, even in small matters, gives meaning to life. However well fed, however comfortable modern man might be without it, he demands choice as a right, not because it is economically superior, but as an end in itself. By pretending to offer it, the North Koreans acknowledged as much; and in doing so, recognised that they were consciously committed to the denial of what everyone wants.
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