Why can’t we all be more social?
When Obama’s opponents want to really discredit him, they call him a socialist. In the modern political world, this epithet is far worse than “wife-beater,” “moral degenerate,” or even “devil-worshipper”. In fact, all of these derogatory appellations appear to be encompassed by this damning label “socialist”. The devil is, of course, Karl Marx (seen to the right), who visualized socialism as an intermediate step in achieving the communist utopia. We have been reading the works of Marx and I find some of his ideas very intriguing. Marx visualized a classless society in which everyone shares in the profit of their labors. He saw communism as a remedy for the “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation”1 of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Marx’s ideas are embodied in a large number of works, the most famous being the Communist Manifesto1, which he wrote with Friedrich Engels. Communism has now been almost completely discredited due to its failures of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Cuba. China is thriving because, while maintaining many of the trappings of communism, it has embraced capitalism with great success. I think that it is safe to say that communism is dead and cannot, and should not, be resurrected.
Socialism adapted to modern society is a more palatable and easily achievable solution to the exploitation of the many by the few. It is also a system in which everyone would share the benefits of industrialization. Unlike communism, where the goal is the destruction of the machinery of capitalism, socialism can be adapted to the existing means of production. The difference is that the means of production would be owned by society rather than private individuals motivated solely by their hungry appetites for profit. Moreover, socialism is fully compatible with democracy. While the US is a capitalistic democracy, several European countries are socialist democracies, and they have proven to be quite successful.
It has been argued that socialism runs counter to the normal competitive nature of man where people are motivated by personal gain and are less concerned about society at large. However, the willingness to act on behalf of the community is not necessarily an unnatural impulse. It is quite common in the animal world2. Consider African termites. The tunnels for entering the mounds built by African termites have only a slightly larger diameter than the heads of the soldier termites. When the nests are threatened, the soldiers will block the access into the mound with their heads, thus sometimes sacrificing their own lives for the survival of the community. Furthermore, anthropologists have discovered many different primitive cultures in which people act on behalf of the community, not themselves. The point I am trying to make is that altruistic behavior can, in fact, be an effective survival strategy.
So, would socialism work in modern U.S. society? To be honest, probably not. The current capitalistic system is highly, probably irreversibly,entrenched and the American people are repelled by socialism. This aversion is, in part, due to its historical ties to communism. However, they also hate the idea, illustrated by the cartoon below, that the socialist government will take their hard-earned money out of their pockets and give it to the disadvantaged. Nevertheless, it should be possible to adopt the underlying motivation of socialism: the equitable treatment of all of people living in society. It seems inexcusable that so many U.S. citizens living far below the poverty line lack health care and have no security in retirement. Can government initiatives rectify these inequities socialism? Not even close, but they are moral imperatives that we can no longer ignore.