I want you to imagine a group of people who communally share their resources. No one person owns anything; everything belongs to The Group, not to an individual. Each individual contributes according to the rules of the group, and they receive some restitution for their labor. There is a hierarchy in this group, however. At the top of the pyramid are elected people who set the policies that they are voted to set, and, though these elected people have authority, none of them can just take the group’s resources and run. Instead, what allotment of the resources these elected officials receive is determined by a sort of another group–a board of people.
When a person needs to use part of The Group’s resources for something, they fill out some paperwork, which is in turn sent to people who are higher on the totem pole, and someone approves or disapproves of the requisition. However, each person is guaranteed a specific amount of the resources as part of their labor agreement, and these guaranteed resources can be used in whatever way the individual wants. Strictly speaking, additional resources could be requisitioned for any reason the individual wants, too, but it’s more likely that a requisition will be approved if the request for additional resources is more an investment than a consumption.
What did we just describe?
Or a corporation?
We have to focus more on what things are than what they are called, and this is precisely why. If I were to tell someone that corporations are socialist in nature, I would be laughed out of the room. Yet here we are. The above description could describe either a communist society or the inner workings of a corporation. This is not a word game. It’s not a pun, and it’s not clever linguistics. This is what they are.
Putting anarcho-communism aside for a moment–because the majority of communists aren’t anarchists, and neither are most socialists–the one distinguishing factor between corporations and the socialist society would be that, ideally, in the socialist society, everyone’s personal “restitution for labor”–that is, “wages,” but I avoided that word purposely–would be equal.
This is always a question that we must ask the communist: do you truly believe that the McDonald’s worker and the President of the United States deserve an equal wage? Does the socialist truly believe that the Wal-Mart stocker and the Congressional official deserve an equal wage? For those rare individuals who would answer affirmatively, there is little more to be said; we cannot argue with people who believe that these people are making equal contributions to society.
The question of wages is a strange one, because we have not long been selling our labor in such numbers. Throughout most of human history, a person’s sold labor was a supplement; we did not buy food and clothing, because we grew our own and made our own. We sold our labor when we needed to purchase those things that we could not produce ourselves; when we needed to visit the blacksmith, for example. While there were blacksmiths, of course, who did primarily sell their labor as a means of living, they were still rare–artisans, craftsmen, and tailors constituted a middle class.
Recent times have redefined human society such that virtually everyone sells their labor, no one grows their own food, and your kids would be laughed out of school–you might end up facing criminal charges, as well–if you sent your children to school in clothing that you made. This is a relatively new state of affairs, though. Throughout most of human history, you put in the work to grow your own food and, if you did not, you starved.
This is where communists and socialists wholly break with nature. It is the responsibility of an animal to secure its sustenance, either through predation or production–hunting or gathering. That it would even be possible for one animal to contribute nothing to their own survival, yet still survive, is a new development. Remembering that compassion is a luxury, the Johnson family would not have been willing to share their food with the Lennox family when the Lennox family chopped down a few trees and proclaimed, “There. I tried.”
A fundamental truth has been lost in the nihilistic fervor of western society: the universe doesn’t give a fuck about us, we are animals, and it is the responsibility of an animal to ensure its own survival. In the event that it cannot, compassion should probably be afforded to the animal by those who can afford that luxury, if they so choose, but that we can have this conversation in the first place shows that we have lost all semblance of reason and sanity. What the hell do you mean that I must have compassion?
Suffering is made contagious by pity.
We have reached this point where we are today because of capitalism. Let there be no doubt about it. It was capitalism that allowed us the luxury of deciding that we must not send our four-year-old children to be maimed in glass factories. If you went to Victorian London, do you know what you would see?
When my mother died I was very young,And my father sold me while yet my tongueCould scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his headThat curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved, so I said,“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare,You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”And so he was quiet, & that very night,As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;And by came an Angel who had a bright key,And he opened the coffins & set them all free;Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,He’d have God for his father & never want joy.And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the darkAnd got with our bags & our brushes to work.Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.
During the Irish Famine it was not unusual for parents to sell their children. We look back on those 19th century atrocities and condemn them–as rightly we should–but we condemn them without understanding them. Parents sent their children to work in glass factories to be maimed for life because they had no choice. It was that or starve. Parents sold their children into slavery–or worse–because it was that or starve. What would you do, if you went back in time and saw these things happening? Would you come forward and outlaw it? Would you say, “No! If I see you sending your children to work in glass factories, I will throw you in prison”?
Then you would condemn them to death.
It was not legislation or happy feelings that put a stop to this practice. It was not people slapping their foreheads and proclaiming, “Oh, shit. You know? It’s probably not a great idea to sell our children.”
It was capitalism.
It was prosperity.
People stopped sending their children to be maimed in factories when it was no longer necessary, and shortly thereafter we condemned and outlawed it. It was a necessity born of poverty–a poverty that stretched back to the time when peasants grew their own food, something that had become increasingly unfeasible.
Look to China today. How much sweatshop labor and child labor is there in China today? Oh, there is still child labor and sweatshop labor, but it has been drastically reduced from what it was thirty years ago. People in China are now buying vehicles, building better homes, securing more stable electricity–why? Why are the Chinese prospering?
Because of capitalism.
We are such a curious species.
We use these tools to climb to such high plateaus, and then we cast off the tools and condemn them, insist that we don’t need them because we have better tools, and then we flounder on the side of the mountain, thrashing about and asking stupidly, “What went wrong? We had it all figured out!”
The greatest example of this is how Trump is being condemned for expressing that he uses his power, fame, and wealth to cajole women into sleeping with him. Even if Donald Trump never touched a woman without her consent, the same people would be condemning him, and for the same reason.
Good for you, Donald.
We are animals–stupid, petty, violent, horny animals. Unfortunately, at some point during our evolutionary line we developed sentience, which in turn led to an out-of-control ego, which we immediately fed by convincing ourselves that we are anything but animals, despite all evidence to the contrary. All the evidence suggests that nothing but your own perceptions separates you from the chair you’re sitting in, and nothing but ego distinguishes you from the wolf.
The difference is that the wolf has forgotten what it is. It’s a stupid, petty, violent, horny animal, and it has no delusions about it. So the wolf survives, doing what it was programmed by biology to do. The wolf has no compassion because the only things the wolf could conceivably have compassion for is its prey–and it cannot be allowed the luxury of compassion for its prey; its own survival depends on it.
We humans, though… What is the soul?
The soul is two things. It is a delusion that we are immortal, and it is a symbol of our own vanity. Ask any person who believes they are immortal* whether animals have souls, and they will almost all answer the same: “No.” The soul is what allows this delusion to persist today, when, by all rights, it should have been cast off when it was proven beyond all doubt that personality is an electrochemical reaction in the brain, and that neither personality nor self exist external of the brain. Yet it persists, a delusion that we cannot let go of.
It is the greatest of ironies that, yes, we can be better. We can be better than the other animals with whom we share a planet and a lineage. We do have a sense of self, and we are afforded the luxury of compassion. It would be foolish to suggest that we forego this luxury in the name of some Neo-Luddism insanity. We are what we are, and “what we are” includes wonderful potential–a potential that has actualized and allowed us the luxury of compassion.
But we must not forget, as we exercise that compassion, that it is a luxury, and the very things which purchased that luxury are the very things we must control if we are to show compassion.
* Let’s not mince words about it–this is what advocates of “souls” are suggesting.