That was Larken Rose discussing socialism, communism, and collectivist authoritarian regimes.
Hmmm…honestly, I do get a bit tripped up on this topic. I’m probably 80-90% in agreement with him, but I wouldn’t go so far as to claim to be anti-socialism or anti-collectivist, and here’s why.
As I’ve been studying history, the entire civilization project has resulted in the rise of despotic rulers again and again and again and again. Yet, when we look back to pre-civilized history, humans most definitely did live within tight collectives, and that was the original setting for us as a social species. This notion of individualism, much as I adore it, is a relatively new advent in the ways we understand it to be today. Why? Because people have always relied on one another for our very survival, so interdependence has always been and remains the norm. I don’t see a way around that.
My readings tell me that tribal “primitive” peoples engaged in open exchanges and gift-giving as their means of keeping harmony and promoting bonds, as well as trying to sway the spirits of their ancestors through ritual ceremonies and offerings. Then with the rise of chiefdoms and later kingdoms, a good measure of power wound up being centralized in those figures’ hands so it became their task to collect and redistribute goods among their people. Then came the rise of the city-state, then the nation-state, and there again we see even more power being centralized in the hands of rulers and them being tasked with the job of redistribution among the people. Though plenty of kings kept more for themselves, this was deemed acceptable because common people were attracted to the notion of treating select individuals as gods among man. Why? I don’t think anyone’s really clear on that yet. But we seem to see this whole process ramp up more and more as humans have moved into the future, until we reached fairly modern times where weaponry and technology has allowed governments to claim a monopoly on force and to centralize so much power into its own hands to do with as it wishes, regardless of whether the citizenry is actually on board with the scheme.
It’s a real dilemma, because on one hand the collective interests do indeed matter. A completely individualistic society where no government or ruling body forcefully dictates and enforces laws would leave people to fend entirely for themselves, resulting in a new struggle for “survival of the fittest” where the few who wielded the most power could afford to receive protection and the rest would be left to go without or to turn toward their own brands of vigilante justice. In fact, in this capitalist setup we’re already seeing some of that play out, where the most powerful are at liberty to coerce and exploit the many, backed oftentimes by the power of the State since major corporations have essentially become infused with our government (through campaign financing, massive lobbying efforts, and overlap where key people move between political positions and corporate careers). THAT is fascism, by definition. And though it tends to use the language of collectivism to promote its agendas and to get citizens on board, what it winds up doing is catering to its own special class of rich folks while quashing dissent and creating a very non-competitive environment among the people. Not only is that fascist, but it winds up becoming anti-capitalist in the end as well.
My individual rights don’t matter if your individual rights don’t matter. That’s a collective interest we all hold as freedom-loving individuals. The individual doesn’t truly have much power, not in a country of roughly 300 million or in a world of 7 billion. Hence why we do continue to form collectives, like political parties and activist movements in an effort to come together so as to fight for what we believe is right using our united strength and ingenuity. To be united is indeed to be a collective. So the problem here isn’t with collectivism, per se, nor with individualism, per se. It seems to be with what we do with that or under that guise.
How much power should each individual possess? Limitless? Well, that won’t allow us to have a functioning society. And here again is where I run into trouble with anarchists, because they aim to abolish the State without explaining satisfactorily how these people will remain free if they themselves cannot defend their rights, property and person. Hence why we do have police and militaries — theoretically that is indeed their job to look out for us, most especially those among us who are too weak, too young, or too old to protect themselves sufficiently. While I agree that more power needs to be dispersed back into the hands of the average people, will we use it to defend ourselves and others when wronged? Will we use our power to produce what we need to survive? Or will we abuse power, as our rulers typically do, and aim to exploit others who can’t protect themselves from us? Because that seems to go to the core of all of this: corrupted intentions and drive. And that appears to be quite human and a very dangerous aspect of our natures.
Is it any wonder that destructive human potential shows itself not only in corrupted individuals out here among the masses but also most especially among those who’ve risen in power? To me, it’s more of a question of corruption and how to safeguard against it, because it appears the 20th century has taught us that any kind of government, claiming any kind of ambitions, can and nearly always does wind up proving despotic in the end. How do we change or control for this? I don’t rightly know.
If we as people follow our base desires and wind up corrupted, is it any wonder that our leaders in government do the same, seeing as how we vote for them, arguing that we’re forced to select between the “lesser of two evils”? Evil is evil, that should be plain to us by now. But how do we vote for better candidates when they all lie or wind up corrupted soon after being elected, due in part to the system currently in place that they’re expected to navigate? I don’t know. Seems like we do need a major overhaul here, but in order for that to be an improvement on what we have already we’d all need to be in a better mind-space so as to make more responsible decisions and so as to self-govern to the utmost that we’re able. But that’s not where the majority currently stand. We’ve grown spoiled on the goods and services provided by society, and we’ve lost touch with providing for our own basic needs. So we don’t have much negotiation power at present. A violent revolt will just result in a lot of us dead, injured and imprisoned since the State possesses more firepower. Yet it doesn’t appear we can democratically rectify this situation as it stands today, at a time when it’s anyone’s guess if our votes even count anymore.
There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors obstructing our view on all of this. But the issue at the core is POWER. This is why I keep bringing up the folly of allowing too much power to centralize in the hands of a few. Because human nature is what it is, and people can quite easily get corrupted, even without them realizing it and even while sincerely meaning well. We’re encouraged to drink the kool-aid beginning at such young ages to where we take so much propaganda for granted, never realizing we’ve been molded (culturally, psychologically, socially) to sell ourselves down the river. The wider culture itself has been selling distorted narratives for decades, generations. We can’t even clearly see outside of this programming, so our own good intentions wind up being turned back and used against us, even without us realizing it.
That’s the conundrum, in a nutshell.
I like this man’s videos, but I do think he treated this matter too simplistically. Anarchists have a tendency to want to frame everything in political terms, when really it seems to me what they’re vying for down deep is a return to primitive and/or agrarian living arrangements. And when that’s the case, I do not begrudge them that. I share a similar vision and refer to my own as being “libertarian-leaning,” since we’re all expected to use political jargon or else be dismissed outright as Luddite fools. BUT, I recognize it as a dream that’s many generations off into the future, if ever it does come to be. We lost our independent agrarian infrastructure due to the changing economic climate pressing people toward cities and corporate employment, and I’m not sure how we’d regain that now as a bunch of city-dwellers and property tax-payers limited by zoning laws and countless other regulations. And if we strip those from the books, we’d be mostly enabling major corporations more than anything else since they already claim a ton of land and have enough money to where they’re poised to acquire more before the rest of us even get our pants on. (Not to mention foreign purchasers of U.S. land…) So we’re kinda in a catch-22 here.
We need the power of the government to harness the power of major transnational corporations. Yet these corporations are already several decades into dominating our government (and many others across the globe), so they are already playing puppet master at this stage in the game. We cannot negotiate with them directly because we, in a very few decades, have been rendered nearly entirely dependent on them for our sustenance and jobs. We common folks are just the last ones to wake up to this reality.
And how much power do you figure any on of us alone has to reckon with the reality? The answer is virtually none. Even when we as individuals take initiative, it is books and articles written by others that we read, courses taught by others that inform us, documentaries and music and art created by others that draw our attention and expand our imaginations. We call ourselves individuals and take much pride in that, but no human is an island, nor can we be. We are a social species. Period. That will never change. We need each other because we can’t help but rely heavily on one another. We eat the foods grown and harvested and processed by others. Our homes are full of goods designed and assembled by others — including the homes themselves. We live in a society with laws concocted by others, reinterpreted by others, enforced by others. Is that not collectivism? Sure it is, and there’s no getting around that whether we live in a modern society or a tribe off in the desert.
Perhaps part of the disconnect here is that we Americans don’t seem to have a realistic grasp on our individual power. We speak as though it is so grand, when really everything we do, all successes that we have are at least partly determined by others. If we go into business for ourselves, it is others who choose to buy our wares or services. If we’re aiming to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, we still depend on others who employ us and work alongside us and who willingly engage in reciprocity with us. No individual stands alone, not really. We wouldn’t even be grown adults today if it weren’t for others who nurtured us as babies and as dependent children, providing the opportunity for us to live to reach an age where we might direct our lives for our own selves. So how individualistic can we really claim to be here? How can one claim to be anti-collectivist and anti-socialism? What the hell is socialism other than a buzzword that can mean damn-near anything depending on who you ask?
We are social beings, and our species developed in communal setups. It seems more of a question of how we direct that, what kind of social systems can we maintain, and how would we bring them into being?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that individual humans are powerless. I just think that we don’t have a good grip on what power we do possess and realistically grasp how much it is in respect to the whole of power in existence. We can’t seem to put this in proper perspective. We naturally gravitate toward one another and group up because somewhere inside we do sense a lack of power in working at something all unto ourselves. We know we need help from others, yet we like to speak as though this isn’t the case. One reason authoritarian systems are able to rise in power is because we common people are horribly divided. In such massive societies it’s probably unavoidable that people learn to compete more than to cooperate, seeing as how there are so many opposing movements and so many opportunists.
Yet when people do cooperate under a political ideology, very often they check their critical thinking at the door and throw their efforts behind the movement or agenda in question, believing that bringing it into being is what’s most essential. From there follows the push toward their collective’s agenda by whatever means deemed necessary. But the means determine the ends, and people don’t seem to understand that well enough either. We get caught up in abstract concepts and fail to take into account the fallout resulting from where and how we’re pushing. Often enough, what we’re pushing toward is just another unsustainable pipe dream. In fact, I’m very interested to learn of stances that aren’t just that since they appear to be in the definite minority anymore.
That’s why I’m most interested in us growing food again and figuring out ways to do for ourselves and in conjunction with those we willfully create communities with. Back to basics. But at this stage in the game that too may prove to only be a pipe dream as well. We live in a new Economic Era with strange new concrete jungles and more laws than any one person can possibly keep up with. This infrastructure is so expensive to where of course we’re collectively taxed like crazy. All except preferred corporate sweethearts, that is (see: loopholes). We’re being rendered into automatons (i.e., economic slaves) to suit this new way of ordering life and societies. I’m certainly not endorsing it, just stating what I see.
So we’re not going to escape this emerging setup as individuals alone. Yet so few of us apparently can get along well enough to form collectives powerful enough to rival the current status quo. Plus the majority of us are in a poor bargaining position, what with corporations being free to pick up and move elsewhere on the globe, and with other nations working hard toward becoming more economically competitive to where eventually this will allow for the formation of a new consumer base that eclipses America’s. It’s actively underway already. So we either figure out an internal (intranational) solution so as to maintain ourselves or else this will undoubtedly prove to be the twilight hour of our empire.
This is also calling for a major paradigm shift, which can’t help but ultimately be an individual undertaking. And that’s where we individuals do possess a great deal of power. Because we’ve been lied to and misled doesn’t mean we must keep buying into the hype. But the bullshit is acres deep by this point, so no individual alone can analyze and make sense of it all. Concerted efforts do need to be made — yet there we run into trouble as well since nearly all efforts are tied in with seeking profit and/or self-aggrandizement, which can corrupt even the best of intentions eventually.
And around and around we go. THIS is human nature-in-action. THIS is where the search for power has wound us all up at. Not sure how you get around that.
So that’s why I try to sit back and ponder it all, roll it over in my mind since there’s no collective outside of my closest friends and loved ones that I’m comfortable throwing most of my eggs in with, seeing as how most movements are showing themselves as corrupt little microcosms that surely will misbehave (or prove ineffectual) if ever they rose to power. Quite the dilemma. Don’t like watching the world burn and people suffering, but can’t trust most (if any) of the biggest contenders and political parties claiming to be trying to go up against this. So what then? I don’t rightly know.
But I do know I stand up for the rights of individuals to do as they see fit with their own bodies, and I support our natural rights to live in peace, unhindered, so long as we’re not seriously transgressing on others. Our political/economic system at present is doing everything it can to undermine our choices and options and to insert itself more and more into our private lives. This is I do see clearly and take grave issue with. I’m just stumped on what can realistically be done about it.