This is part 1 in my series exploring flaws in the reasoning behind current widely-held social ideals. Part 1b, the followup to this post, is here. Put your thinking cap on and take this opportunity to consider what’s written here. If you prefer to abdicate your responsibility for critical thought, and you’ve come just to loudly expound on the dearly-held ideas that were given to you by others, please take advantage of either the “back” or “close tab” button on your browser. Otherwise, disagreement and reasoned debate are welcome. Enjoy.
Karl Marx. Communism.
How do you react when you read these terms? What mental associations do they reveal? If you’ve been through public school in the United States, at least, you probably see red, and think of words like “Stalin,” “the Cold War,” “enemy,” “failed,” and possibly even “evil.” Likely, almost as many negative associations arise when you encounter the term “socialism.” These were the villains du jour in popular media for decades, and are still evoked as boogeymen to scare people away from ideas even tangentially related.
One fundamental problem with the way we often think about these things is the dualistic reasoning that would have us believe that anything associated with Communism must be wrong, and anything opposed must be right. Any real examination of this type of reasoning must conclude that it is ridiculous. Reality is rarely so simple. Yet the tactic continues to be effective.
Thus the Western ideal of individualism is reinforced, and the entire concept of any type of governmental redistribution of wealth stigmatized.
Let’s look closer at this, though, rather than just shutting off our brains. From Guns, Germs, and Steel we learn that redistribution of wealth is one of the main reasons government exists in the first place. Tribes who chose a chief to facilitate conflict resolution, decision making, and economic redistribution had an advantage over those who didn’t. Economic redistribution is what enabled the rise of civilization as we know it; it is the only way non-food-producing occupations could exist (economy meant food). Kind of makes railing against “Robin Hood” style legislation by people who aren’t farmers (and therefore can only exist because of redistribution) seem a little silly.
No one can or should be completely self-reliant. Humans aren’t built that way.
Recognizing that no one lives in a vacuum punches some holes in that individualistic ideal. The resources of our planet are vast, but not unlimited. Not only do the ridiculously wealthy take too large of a share for themselves, but they didn’t even get there on their own merits, free from outside involvement. They are no more worthy of that advantage than anyone else. No one is.
So what might the world be like if we let the stigma around redistribution of wealth die? I don’t think we’d conclude that Communism is the way to go, but we’d probably find improvements to the system we have now.
What if there were a cap on personal income (from all sources), say $250,000 per year per individual or something similarly astronomical to the vast majority of us? That should make it possible to guarantee the most basic food, shelter, plumbing, health care, and internet connection to every person in the country.
Would it help if I pointed out that money is not a personal score? That what really matters is the life you experience? That the difference between $250,000 per year and $20 million per year is in reality negligible? And the difference between $5,000 per year and the same amount, but without having to pay for bare-minimum coverage of the bottom two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy would be colossal, especially considering that you’d be exchanging the former difference in perhaps a couple thousand lives for the latter in millions or, with a worldwide system, billions.
Sure, that’s probably just a fantasy. But breaking down the victim-blaming individualist ideal and allowing ourselves to actually consider letting the government better fulfill one of its primary roles in society without losing our shit would at least be a step in the right direction.