Posts Tagged 'capitalism'

How, Socialism?

Albert Einstein wrote an article entitled Why Socialism in 1949. In it he, naturally, advocated a socialist form of government. I myself have long dreamed of living in a socialist society, but have become more aware by the day of that impossibility considering where I live, The United States of America. For whatever reason, the article sparked in me a series of questions I felt impassioned to delve into. What has caused socialism to become so unpopular in our culture? What has made it synonymous with the concept of anti-Americanism? What steps can be taken to someday institute socialist reforms in America? So many questions, but luckily, I had time.

Let us begin at the root of the problem: capitalism, and the corresponding desire for massive amounts of wealth. It is a desire of the people of capitalist societies to accumulate such wealth so as they can afford any good, service, and lifestyle they desire, of whatever quantity. It is a selfish notion, rationalized with ideas of supporting ones family, seeking the American dream, and living a comfortable lifestyle. We are adamant against losing the possibility of not attaining such wealth that we can move beyond what is ‘comfortable.’ We feel that opportunities are missed when we don’t attain such wealth, that we don’t ‘get’ all there is to ‘get’ from life. We are brought down by the notion of the American dream, which is to us a completely economic notion and one inherently married with capitalism.

Americanism, and its like-minded cousin, patriotism, are rooted in mob mentality. In America, we tie in this concept of the American dream with being American, with being patriotic, which is a value supported more in groups than individually, particularly after 9/11. To not have the possibility of achieving an ‘American dream,’ is un-American, unpatriotic, and unsupported in our culture. Therefore, any system of governance which limits the ability of an individual to accumulate infinite amounts of wealth is scorned with vengeance.  When in solitude, it is unlikely for an individual to reflect on their patriotism, and to necessarily cherish it. In groups, however, it is profoundly taboo to demonize, or to understate the importance of, patriotism in any way. To champion it is to gain instantaneous support; therefore it is tacked on to other issues. Once the label of patriotism is applied to an issue, the issue’s opposition is stuck in the position where it can’t utilize the same label, and risks additionally being ascribed as un-American.

What is it that makes patriotism such a cherished value in our society? When the concept of ‘love of one’s country’ is brought up, we as Americans are conditioned to accept that idea as infallibly good. Part of why patriotism is so beloved is that people like something to unite under. They like that a large umbrella such as national pride can override smaller scale disputes among us. That people on opposite ends of political spectrums can put aside their differences in moments of national tradition.

I had an experience in middle school that might shed some light on the origins of patriotism, and why it has gotten out of control in our society. I played the trumpet, and sometimes had disputes with my fellow players. Sometimes I sat behind others who I felt I had more talent than, or scoffed when demeaned by those better than I. But when we played together, and we really played well, I felt such a rush of pride and felt infinitely united with my fellow band mates. My disputes with the others melted away, and it was a profound and great feeling to experience. That feeling went unspoken, however, and if it was indeed felt by my fellow band members, I couldn’t say. But imagine, if you will, that after we had played our song so triumphantly, that I verbalized all that I had felt during the song; the pride and unity I felt with the band. Perhaps some would agree with, and empathize with that notion. But what if someone else in the band articulated that they felt a stronger sense of pride and unity than I had? That is precisely what patriotism has become in America. One cannot dismiss the feelings I felt playing that song as any way negative. So instead, in competition, others jostle for who had the most pride, and the most unity. Perhaps then the trumpets make claim to having the most band patriotism. The Saxophones then say they have more. The fundamental feelings at the core are infallible, so they cannot be undermined. But what if the clarinets don’t wish to partake in the chaos and make no claim to being the most patriotic? Then surely when a dispute arises between the clarinets and another faction that claims the utmost patriotism, the clarinets are deemed unpatriotic.

Here we have the most fundamental problem in our culture; that since patriotism is a universally admirable trait, everyone must be in competition with one another in order to have the most of it. Everyone must play the same game of, “I’m the most patriotic, I’m the most American,” because it is political suicide to be passive. So on one hand, we have “the American dream,” which centers around the old American notion that anyone can achieve anything; the rags to riches story. And we have formed that story into meaning, “Anyone can achieve insurmountable wealth, and everyone has a right to try, no one can stand in our way, and to hell with helping anyone else achieve the same because it’s a dog eat dog world; if I’m stuck helping someone else that just puts me further behind in achieving the dream.”

And here is socialism, which has been tied to Communism (And if you don’t believe they are basically the same then you’re un-American!) Communism has been seen as un-American since the 1920’s. Prolonged efforts have been made to root out communists or potential communists, as their profound anti-American tendencies are seen not as docile ideological differences, but as a threat to the way of life we enjoy and that we demand be preserved. This was further enhanced by our chief world rival of the 20th century, the Soviet Union, being communist. As we united against this enemy, we came to accept the propaganda against the U.S.S.R as common knowledge, ingrained in our culture. Surely to question criticism against a military rival would be at best taboo, at worst treasonous. Now being a communist meant being a traitor.

Then there’s freedom. It is firmly tied with patriotism, but is used strategically in opposition to socialism. Americans believe we should be free to engage in whatever we please in our pursuit of the American dream. Socialism stands in that path, and, so the rhetoric goes, freedom is limited. Essentially, socialism is tied in with being against the American dream, unpatriotic, and traitorous. A political candidate can’t touch the subject without being labeled all three of those things. And as Americans become more and more lazy in their acquisition of news, they are more and more willing to not think critically about an accusation of being a socialist. If Barack Obama wants to limit free enterprise in any way, that’s limiting the American dream, and to limit the American dream is to be unpatriotic, and to be unpatriotic is to be a traitor, and to be a traitor who supports limiting free enterprise in any amount, is to be a socialist traitor who hates freedom. It is now impossible for a political candidate to experience any political success without supporting and increasing the powers of capitalism and big business, because to attempt to limit those powers at all is to risk becoming the clarinets.

Clearly this can only be bad for America. The gap between rich and poor will widen, and the power of corporations will only increase. As corporate power increases, so too does their influence on lobbying and subsequently the legislature. This patriotism rhetoric may soon run our country. Anyone or any group against the capitalist hegemony will be branded as un-American, a label that few can recover from. There has become a McCarthy-esque state of fear among us, whereas in the 1950’s the label of death was that of communist, so today is it being labeled un-American.

Alongside the lust for wealth is the lust for power, but are they one and the same? Often the two go hand in hand, after all, the rich generally hold most of the power in a capitalist nation. But the tide is turning towards the rich controlling those in power. Corporations now have no spending limits in support of a political candidate. Thus, rich corporations can funnel infinite amounts of money towards the campaigns of political candidates who are likely to support them, and big business in general. In this sense, power is becoming obsolete. You can no longer truly have power without the influence of wealth. Barack Obama rose to power in large part due to a very well-funded campaign. He could not succeed on his message alone; he had to market his message. So it has now become, in essence, impossible to run a successful campaign for political office without the aid of substantial wealth, meaning that capitalism now has an inordinate effect on who we elect to our government.

What can be done to counteract this? One scenario is that the quality of life in America becomes so unbearable due to an overabundance of greed, pollution and limiting of ideas, that there is a final backlash against capitalism. When would this happen? Would it ever happen? Would the power of corporations prove too mighty a foe?

I believe there is another way to create socialist reforms in our society. This option is for those who resent capitalism to mobilize and organize with extreme efficiency and with a strong purpose, and to move beyond simply whining on youtube and facebook. Actual political organizations have to be formed, and they can lend no validity to an accusation of being un-American. They must form a comprehensive thesis on why the sustainability of our nation, our world and the human race, is more important than the possibility of acquiring limitless wealth. But they must make this message simplistic and accessible; they must make it relatable to the average American. They must not appear pompous or self-righteous. The must not enlist help from a current socialist nation; they must be entirely American in their ideology and their influence. They must approach their message with humility and common sense. They must refrain from attacking individuals, in fact, they should almost entirely focus on what needs to be done to improve the situation, rather than what is wrong with it. They need to instill the difference between paying workers based on the value of the product they produce and paying them based on their minimum needs and what the job market dictates. They need to emphasize that religion does not equate to morality, and that to build a truly sustainable nation and world, logic must be paramount.

What does logic have to do with this issue? It is the only thing that can save us from ourselves. Without logic, feelings of lust and greed will go on unchecked, and lead to the manipulation that the patriotism rhetoric has produced. Human beings are still animals; we have not evolved so far that we are immune to our instincts. Only by a strict system of logic can we sustain life on this planet for much longer. When faced with a proposal to either have a society with a few rich and many poor, or to have a society with fewer rich and the rest living comfortably, most people with a rational common sense would pick the latter. We know this is the right choice, but individually we all, covertly or not, wish to attain that great American wealth. This is instinctual, and this urge must be suppressed, for it is, left unchecked, going to lead to the downfall of mankind far earlier than any of us would like. We can’t leave these problems to a future generation, although that is our tendency. We know, or should know, that our selfish pursuit of limitless wealth isn’t good for our world. That being selfish is inherently a negative quality. But we engage in societal procrastination, by which we don’t take action to correct what we know is potentially dangerous behavior until it becomes an immediate need. We see the world slowly crumbling around us (Seems like we’ve had quite a few massive earthquakes lately, and more and more nations are producing nuclear weapons; when will one be used next?) and we may agonize over the state of things. But for now we have our own selfish desires and problems to deal with, and until the planet falls into such disrepair that we can’t go about our daily lives as we wish, we’ll continue with our own desires and problems. But by the time we aren’t able to go about our daily lives as normal, it may be too late to revert the damage we have done.

It may already be too late, and our fate is sealed. The world is a delicate ecosystem, and we have abused it and harvested it to no end. Think about the notion of life. In order for life to exist, the stars must quite literally align in such a way that if a trillion solar systems were formed (And the chance of a solar system forming is close to infinitely impossible) there would need to be trillions upon trillions of more solar systems to be formed before a star which is the absolute perfect size, produces the absolute perfect amount of heat, to provide to a planet the perfect distance away, which has the perfect type of magnetic field to provide safe haven for sophisticated life forms to exist for a prolonged period of time. Now think about how precious planet earth really is. And how, quite possibly, it isn’t completely perfect in harboring life. Perhaps the window of time in which our ecosystem is inhabitable isn’t as long as we think; maybe around 4 billion years (Which is when the first bacteria were believed to have existed on our planet). Maybe the magnetic field will weaken to a point where earth is uninhabitable in a few hundred years. We can’t assume that our ecosystem is perfectly suited to us, and much less can we assume it indestructible.

We certainly aren’t helping! We are constantly, and continuously, polluting, drilling and deforesting, all of which could have dire impacts on the earth’s sustainability. Perhaps removing so many metals, oil and other materials from the earth can eventually mark a shift in its sustainability. Perhaps damaging the ozone layer to a certain point makes it impossible to go outside without risking immediate skin cancer. Perhaps removing so many trees from our forests will reduce the amount of oxygen produced to a point where there isn’t enough air for our rapidly growing population to breathe.

And why do we abuse our ecosystem in this way? One reason is to meet the needs of our ever expanding populace here on earth. Another is business. We cut trees for the lumber industry (As well as others), we drill to meet the demand for the oil industry and the market for metals, and we pollute as a byproduct of the energy industry, as well as the manufacturing industry.

Would socialism help? It certainly couldn’t hurt. With less free enterprise the demand for goods that derive from our planet might drop a little. But socialism wouldn’t be lessening the world’s wealth; merely redistributing it. What it could do is lessen pollution’s impact on the planet; with less incentive to make money, companies might be more inclined to appeal to customers by being environmentally friendly. The main benefit of socialism would be a decreased emphasis on the acquisition of wealth, however. Knowing that becoming infinitely rich isn’t a possibility might lead people to value different things in their lives besides money. And that’s the step that everyone must take before we can truly thrive as a society. We must cross the line towards accepting that we won’t attain infinite wealth. It isn’t an easy proposition. To cede that possibility is extremely difficult. I myself grapple with it. I have advocated socialism for some time now, but deep down I still have aspirations towards being filthily rich, and that, even in a socialist society I’ll become famous through something or another and attain great wealth. But I must commit to not aspiring to such grandeur. Only then can I be certain that I’m not a contributor to the problem.

Now this whole issue begs the question: do I love my country? I’m inclined to say yes, if only to gain support for the ideas in this essay, and as I have insinuated, a political idea cannot survive in America when it is known to come from a source of anti-Americanism. With that said, however, I must say that I have respect for the principles this country was founded on. The founders attempted to create a nation immune to the tyranny of an individual leader, as well as immune to the tyranny of the majority through a system of checks and balances, which were fairly ingenious at the time. Certainly there have been ups and downs with the people acting tyrannically (slavery, prohibition) and the government acting as such (Japanese internment, Dick Cheney’s belief in the unchecked power of the executive branch), but overall the system of government has held up fairly well. It seems as though individuals in government are aware of this tedious balance and hold fast to the constitution in order to preserve it. I have few qualms with the way the government operates, besides the economic aspect, and I do have an admiration for the origins of this country. I think, through the evolution of capitalism, and the concept of rugged individualism (Which bore the rags to riches concept), that we have strayed from being an enviable society towards being a destructive and aimless one. But I believe the one problem to be capitalism. I love this country, because I care enough to want to fix it, which I most certainly do. Is it fixable? That’s a more difficult question, but one who’s answer will be apparent only when an attempt is made.


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Dedicated to the life and times of Officer Dog