It’s strange to see people afraid of the very thing that makes us supreme on this planet, our ability to work together. Very little has been accomplished by the single person alone in our history. We’re tempted to point out all the inventions that have been brought forth by the great minds throughout the ages, the steam engine, the electric light and countless other additions to our technological and cultural heritage. But we often ignore that these inventors worked in lands cleared by thousands of their forbears, in houses built by armies of skilled craftsmen and lived in countries groomed and protected by collective governments. How much would have been accomplished by inventors who had to build their own houses, till their own fields, hunt for their own food and defend it all on a daily basis?
No one has ever gotten rich, famous or done heroic or great merciful deeds within in the vacuum of their own existence. We all build on the work of others, live on the lands they civilized, eat the food they harvest, drive the roads they built and live by the laws and rights handed down by other humans. So why would we worry about making working together more integral to our culture?
Fear of losing choices is the most likely culprit, even though we live and die by the actions of others, we value our own personal space. The philosophies we develop for ourselves, the worlds we build to around us to spend our lives in and the values we hold dear. We want to pick our own spouses, our homes, our jobs and so much more. It’s a trade off, a balance between the community and the individual. These are choices that we’ve been making since the dawn of our time.
We make those hard choices to serve the community because of the overwhelming benefits of working together. Working together gives us educators to teach our children, policemen to patrol the streets we live on, doctors to treat us when we are ill and insurance to pay for it. We are, and always have been social creatures, it’s the basis of why we survived to dominate the planet. Our “socialism” allows more of us to cooperate on more endeavors than any other creature.
Defining human rights, by it’s very nature, is a socialist function. We determine how we should all be treated, how each can live and what freedoms we enjoy in congress with one another. And together we’ve done a pretty good job. Not to say we’re done by any means. Every day we expand our “rights” to include new things our ancestors couldn’t have imagined including in a list of “Basic Human Rights.”
But all these rights depend on the cooperation of millions of others, we all give ourselves these things, together. They belong to all of us, or none of us. That’s socialism, and it’s freedom, and it’s life on Earth because we say it is. That’s the “we” who knows it all costs something, in fact quite a bit. The real cost of living together with our “inalienable rights” is choice. No longer can we safely choose to shoot our neighbor in a dispute, nor can we choose dump our garbage in the public street or attempt to deny others the very rights we hold so dear.
So when others cry “that’s Socialism!” and gnash their teeth, I often wonder what they think everything else is. The good people who take the home interest deduction on their federal income taxes and then turn to complain about Social Security. The loyal Americans who’ve fought for this country and now descry the aliens who want to be part of it. The pious folk who are stunned when there is an outcry over a particular religious organization’s ability to deny their flock the rights of every other citizen. The same rights America’s social contract the Constitution guarantees them.
Socialism is about providing a baseline for living, but not necessarily one for outcome. We are all socialists when we talk about inalienable rights guaranteed to each of us, socialists when we build public works anyone can use, and very much socialists when we vote democratically to elect an official or pass a measure. Socialists are people who live together, work together, make decisions together and act together for the good of all, just like we do. We don’t have to like the word, but it’s a little silly, it’s the secret to our success.
The fear of losing choice is natural, but socialism isn’t about that, it’s about providing choices to the widest number of us possible. We do spend our own choice so the the rest of us may have some as well, but the payoff is guaranteed choices for ourselves and our children. We’d all like to have a world where no one will go hungry, where no one will be denied the basics of a good life, good homes, good educations and good jobs. The question is what choices are we willing to give up for those things? What if that meant giving up the choice, or chance, to be fabulously wealthy or powerful? For some of us that’s way too far. For some of us giving up the choice to be better educated than anyone else is too far, or just giving up having a better life than others is too much. Giving up advantages is always difficult and any system that works toward fairness means giving up advantages.
However, in the socialistic world we’ve built for ourselves inequity is the enemy, not necessarily inequality. For every person who falls to ruin while others rise to riches, we are damaged as a whole. While we worship them, our success has always depended on numbers not heroes. We inherently understand that every life wasted in squalor, ignorance and disease holds us all back, although we don’t always act that way. And yet, in a larger sense we always tend toward serving the larger population, the greater numbers, don’t we? Toward uplifting the masses of the lowest over serving the singular most high. That’s been our path of progress, our methodology of success. We can complain about the evils of “Socialism” all we want, but it’s what got us to where we are today.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011