Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely feeling the Bern; yet a part of me remains reluctant to endorse any politician after a lifetime of the lesser of two evils. Senator Sanders is pushing all the right buttons and I still believe he’s genuine about the issues we face: excessive student loan debt, a tremendously unequal distribution of wealth and privilege, the urgent need for a transition from dirty energy, and of course jobs. But look no further than Obama’s Hope and Change to see that a charismatic and inspirational campaign has duped Americans before. With that in mind, maybe it’s time to “turn up the heat” on this whole socialism fad.
Student loan debt is staggeringly high, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. Most would equate it to inflation, but in the majority of what we would call “first-world countries” who have succumbed to inflation at much the same rate; higher education is either free or nearly so. Higher education necessitates a large amount of context, and this is not the place for it. I’m interested mostly in what having free higher education would actually mean, and while I’m still in favor of it, I do have my reservations.
Making education free would have to be a good thing though, right? It’s true that an educated society will function better, but the sad reality is that the universities we herd young-adults into today aren’t making the majority of people any smarter. A Bachelor’s degree is all but essential in today’s job market, and if something becomes increasingly necessary at the same time it becomes progressively disturbed it’s a recipe for disaster. At its best, college is a costly pseudo-waiting room for the real world where if you get involved, you’ll make some great friends and start learning the things you want to learn, eventually culminating in a piece of paper allowing you to work. At its worst, college is a continuation of high school; a carnival of indoctrination for political correctness in which industry controls the research, student dollars go to athletic programs, and the administrators cash out all the same.
I’m a silver-linings kind of guy, and I like to think that if education were truly free, maybe students and faculty wouldn’t have to be as concerned with offending others. They might even grow to share my similar distaste for the mundanities of education like deadlines, grades, and suppression of creativity. The best kind of education is student-led and is based on inquiry. Colleges could become a hub for ingenuity, collaboration, and entrepreneurship by removing a few layers of pedagogy and providing students and community members a place to exchange ideas and the facilities to see them through.
While I want education to be free and believe that if it were it would actually improve, I’m still not in favor of raising taxes to make higher education free. Wouldn’t a more sane option be to rather simply reallocate the money we currently spend? A great place to start might be corporate tax breaks and agribusiness subsidies, military spending, or even foreign aid.
For as long as students are shackled with five-figure student debt loans, it’s unlikely they’ll have time to do anything but work to stay afloat. Not only does their money and taxes end up circulating in an economy where it will end up in the hands of few, they have exorbitant interest rates and end up paying well-beyond the already overpriced cost of higher education. But this predatory system is being exposed.
Bernie’s not afraid of billionaires, and his consistency is remarkable, especially for a politician. This crazy old man has been a champion of the working class for as long as he has been in office. He gave the business to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve on more than one occasion, he’s against the NSA’s infringement on our rights, he was vehemently opposed to the TPP, and this absolute rarity- despite inflammatory media personnel doing their best to rouse controversy he refuses to mudsling. None of this will matter much if the mechanisms of democracy continue to be hijacked by monetary interests.
Capitalism is a problem, Bernie fans and climate-change activists have made that very clear and I agree. But any ideology or worldview can become a problem when we tie our identities to it. Winston Churchill once said “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings, the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries,” Collectivized insanity doesn’t cease to become insane when you strap a label on it, and in that sense society will keep chugging right along. Venezuela, a modern-day socialist country, is a prime example that this type of thinking is different only in prefix; high inflation rates, product shortages across the board, and a shocking amount of social unrest have put citizens, intellectuals, and activists at odds again.
Churchill wouldn’t have been surprised, and I can’t say that I am either, that the free-market thinkers are quick to point the finger at the government and socialist proponents point right back. I think they’re both crazy. Economics is by-and-large imaginary, yet we still have people that dedicate their entire lives pushing for their particular version of it; the unifying principle in all of this being that the Earth is a commodity and humans should get to divvy it up as they see fit.
Say you’re a free-market thinker, and you happen to live in a place where 51% of your peers are socialist. No matter how strongly you believe in your principles, what the majority wants they will get. You’re scooping ice cream and 49 out of a 100 people want chocolate and 51 want vanilla, 100 get vanilla. Don’t you dare try to make your own chocolate, though, otherwise we’ll have to spy on you, fine you, jail you, or probably just shoot your dog.
That may sound extreme or abstract, but sometimes it really is that black and white. The majority of people felt at one point that the war on drugs was a good idea. Fast forward forty years through a landscape adorned with decades of murderous conflict between rival drug gangs and DEA officials; we still have the highest incarceration rate in the world and an overwhelming number of them for victimless crimes. There’s no question that the heroine epidemic is scary or that people shouldn’t sell cocaine to kids on the sidewalk, but if those things ceased to be illegal I doubt the average citizen would do them. It baffles me that because of our desire for safety and security, I somehow am a societal nuisance for wanting to smoke an occasional joint.
If society isn’t “voluntary”, then what is it besides a prison? I’m in favor of publicly ran systems of all kinds. I’m not, however, a fan of the centrally-ran and state-mandated forms we’re heading for and have now. If I don’t want to pay for war, I shouldn’t have to. If I want to homeschool my children, that’s my right. If I plan to feed the homeless, nobody should stop me. There’s no benefit to be gained from closing a child’s lemonade stand or designating a “free-speech” area. People often get uncomfortable with this kind of logic, especially when they’re thinking in the context of the environment. Let me make it clear that having individual rights has nothing to do with being able to dump poison into our air and water. It’s my personal belief that the autonomy associated with a more free society would better equip citizens to prevent that type of infringement on their own shared rights to begin with.
It happens all too often: A company is poisoning a shared resource. Community members and activists get together and after several months of negotiation and door-knocking, they have a bill and a sponsor. The bill, intended to halt this destruction, is as usual diluted and punctuated with a few compromises, sent back and passed. Years later, when the heat has died down, the company comes back with renewed vigor and the promise of higher profit margins. Around it goes.
How does this relate to socialism, you say? Put yourself in place of a renegade farmer, the prepper-type, who saw this whole environmental, global crisis thing coming. He is perfectly content on his 40 acre plot, smokes his pipe tobacco every night at sunset and leaves everyone pretty well enough alone. He loves his privacy, as most like him do, but the incessant growth of outsiders from cities packed to the brim keeps him up at night. When will his desire for freedom of choice or non-participation come to be seen as just a blip on the radar for the forward struggle of society? And how is today’s society, or socialism for that matter, any different than a big business?
That patch of land you have is really nice, and although we respect your right to wild places and privacy, the soil is incredibly arable and we have a growing population! Why can’t you just be compassionate and let us use the land to feed all these hungry people?!
While I can’t imagine myself pushing away the thoughts of starving families, it’s scary to think that our own shortsightedness and inability to live in ecological balance has and will increasingly cause this situation in thousands of different contexts. Even more frightening to think of is what sort of actions we’ll take to ensure that our growing population has its needs met. When the government has personal records kept on an entire individual’s life while simultaneously holstering the power of the media, they can pick and choose your life history to paint any narrative they want. The grumpy-but-foresighted prepper is morphed into a maniacal, selfish villain.
I doubt any of this year’s candidates, except for maybe Gary Johnson, can fully and articulately express this concern with socialism to Mr. Sanders. “Policies so good you have to enforce them” will only get you so far, but at least he and I have the same goal in mind of a happier, healthier world, albeit with different routes.
An uptight, perverse obsession with individualism is a prison of its own, though. Without a strong sense of community and collectivism, we lose a vital part of our humanity. Only anthropocentrism is also at fault for the current environmental crisis. We’re not inherently special or separate from the world, so the atrocities committed on the environment are really being done to ourselves and we need to do everything we can to reverse it. In this context, I’m with Bernie. Climate change is a loaded term but ecological devastation and disruption are undeniably real- he is one of a small number of politicians that have a grasp, however flimsy, of this ugly truth.
Although not particularly ambitious, amongst presidential candidates his renewable energy targets are second only to Jill Stein. The sooner the better when it comes to adopting this technology, and while I feel “50% of energy from renewables by 2050” is pretty weak, it’s a start. I like to think of this transition as a feedback loop; if renewable energy projects and their associated community-building and energy independence elicit positive responses, they will lend themselves to more like-minded projects.
In many biochemical pathways, a process called amplification takes place, which goes a little like this: At each step of any pathway sit a dynamic number of proteins, the little machines our bodies make from amino acids. When we release a hormone in response to some outside stimulus, it will latch onto a protein at a specific stage, changing its shape and causing it to start stimulating the activity of the proteins in the next step in the process. One protein activated by that particular hormone may stimulate hundreds at the next, and each of those hundreds may stimulate hundreds of their own, and so on and so forth. We do this to replace our biological machinery and to nourish our body, and it is self-regulating. When the appropriate amount of product has been made, the hormones will have either degenerated or a complimentary hormone will have taken effect.
This biological quip means that if our current crises stimulate say a community energy project, and each community energy project inspires one or more local organic farms, and each of those farms continues to inspire and generate new ideas, the pendulum could swing in favor of balance exceptionally fast. We obviously can’t continue generating products and ideas forever, so as the complimentary hormones of peace and contentment keep us from burying ourselves neck-deep in solar panels, we would find other areas of this worldly body that need healing.
Jobs are what make this country go round, or so you’d think. But it just so happens that another one of the things that needs healing is our fanatical devotion to the idea of jobs. There’s no question that Bernie seeks to restore the middle class, he has the fervent disposition to prove it- but isn’t the whole idea of ‘class’ outdated? That inherently implies division and a sense of “better or worse than”. If wealth is as truly unequal as he likes to mention, and those with the money in control of the mechanisms that allocate it, then redistribution will be a tooth-and-claw battle that nobody will win.
People need jobs because they need money. But it’s often the case that our jobs are one big exercise in futility; a meaningless 9-5 drudgery so that we can pay bills, have food to eat, and a place to stay. What if we could obtain all of that without spending nearly one-third of our lives in a factory and pretending to be grateful for it? Not all that long ago, humans didn’t have to pay rent and all of our food was free. We traded with each other but mostly kept to ourselves and things were simple. Most people worked less than 25 hours per week. If, upon reading those last few lines, your first instinct was to talk about the increased life expectancy that came with modernization, you’re not alone. Though I have to say your version is just as big a gamble. Working 40 hours a week for as many years hoping to guarantee some distant serenity and comfort sounds enticing, but as they say, “a bird in the hand beats two in the bush,”
This isn’t meant to take away from labor movements or people that work or have worked, either. It’s just that sometimes we are so entrenched in the past that it obscures our vision of the future. “Fighting for 15” was successful in some cities, but those places also saw an immediate reduction in workers hours at Walmart. Well, duh. Take it from someone who has actually worked there, trying to improve the job situation at the monstrosity that is Walmart is like dipping a turd in chocolate: $15 an hour may look nice and taste good initially, but once it’s obvious that society told you to eat shit you’re still going to want to puke.
This is where I lose touch with Bernie the most, I think. He’s a hardworking, ambitious senator and there’s no reason for him to think that others shouldn’t have the same opportunities to work, but I think he fails to see a couple things. Firstly, that not everybody wants a “job” and that that’s okay. Some people just want to work enough to get by so they can play music and sit around, and it’s not our job or responsibility to tell them what they need to be doing. Second, a large majority of jobs are counter-productive to his greater aspirations. If we install a high degree of technology and completely revamp our current infrastructure in a sustainable manner, there is still a point at which there simply won’t be as much work to be done. Anything else would be a contradictory immersion into the blind consumerism and environmental degradation that has garnered his campaign so much support to begin with.
My endorsement for keeping the balance between individual liberties and civilizations needs may make a splash, but it will do little to put out a populist fire if society remains on a pedestal. Populist needn’t be a dirty word, but without a certain level of respect for peoples own wants and desires it is as bad as it gets. Bernie Sanders brings a lot to the table, but just because it’s the best we’ve had in years doesn’t mean his ideas shouldn’t be held accountable. Higher education is desperately needed, but if it isn’t producing new ideas and meaningful discourse, if not dissent, then it will have become cancerous to its original purpose.
Socialists aren’t that different from capitalists after all, and the further we seek to divide and label fluid concepts about how to organize ourselves the further we get from reality. The reason the interplay between an individual and society is so hotly contested is because we are living outside of our ecological necessity for community and balance, though Senator Sanders would have us moving in the right direction should he win. As we work to restore that relationship, it’s important to draw wisdom from the past and let hope be the guiding vision for the future.
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