It’s been a while since I blogged. That’s because there has been progress. Writing is a way to vent frustrations, but it is also a way to organize thoughts. Putting ideas together in a way that other people might read them and understand what you are on about is a critical part of the process, certainly for me. In that way, blogging is bit like planning the next move, but if things are actually moving, there is little need.
Yesterday, a friend called me a socialist.
I am not a socialist… am I? I believe poverty is the disease of our society, and I want to fix it. Does that make me a socialist? Dammit, now I have to think. And thinking means writing, so here we are.
Instead of leading you down the winding road of mental wrangling that occurred while my new sleep monitor app was recording very little of the so-called good stuff, I am going to drop you off at the destination: I am not a socialist. Nor am I a capitalist (is that the opposite of socialism?), nor a fascist nor communist. I am a cooperatist. It even says so on the front page of this blog site, so it must be true.
Except I wasn’t really a cooperatist two years ago. The motive for all of this was (and still is) frustration at all of our fighting, a desire to find a way for us to get along so we might actually fix some of our problems, instead of just shouting about it. Now I will say I truly am a cooperatist, and a radical one at that. Now I can define what that means, and more importantly: show you how we could actually make this work. In fact, that is what I have been doing all along, it was just kinda by accident.
If you do a search and read about coooperatism, you will see various definitions and examples, like this one.
Cooperatism is this farcical idea where everyone works together for mutual benefit. Though there are successful examples in the real world, usually harsh reality wrecks the party: some people suck. The Utopian co-op requires that there are no sucky people, and that’s the societal equivalent of a unicorn, so we should all just forget about it, eh?
To keep society structured – to keep the uncooperative people in line – we need rules. That’s where all of the -isms come in, like socialism. The -ism part refers to the philosophy and structure of the system of rules that controls the chaos. But if you look a little closer you will see something interesting: all societies have cooperatism at their core. That core is made up of all the people who don’t suck, who just want to get along and pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Even the most oppressive totalitarian dictatorship has a central populace that struggles to keep it together as best they can. And in order to maintain control of the general population, the most important item on the agenda is to keep them from being able to cooperate.
Because the vast majority of us find ourselves in the we-just-want-to-get-along group, we define our world by the part that controls us: the system of rules. Those systems all have a few things in common: someone makes the rules, and someone enforces those rules. In the past, it was common to have one person do it all: a king or dictator. Most of the time, that doesn’t go over too well, but the “benevolent dictator” still reigns in some people’s minds as the best system, because it’s not so much who makes the rules, it’s what the rules actually are. A good dictator can make really good rules. It’s just so hard to get rid of someone if they turn out to be not-so-benevolent.
We decided to go with democracy because it engages the people in the decisions. It’s like the cooperative version of rule-making, which is why it remains the most popular of our imperfect choices.
But at the end of the day, the whole gamut are just different ways to make rules, and these rules then govern what we do. Some of us equate democracy with freedom, but freedom is really less rules, isn’t it? We are now sitting in the corner with the Libertarians, who would apply the “less is more” philosophy to those pesky rules. Their ideology is enticing, but in reality it is just as much a unicorn as pure cooperatism, as it again ignores the people that suck and the havoc they create.
So we have a cooperative majority, and rules to keep the uncooperative in check.
The most important rules – things like no cheating, no stealing, no murder—they are not even in the debate, because these are not rules that impact the lives of the people that don’t suck. The fact that it’s illegal is not what prevents me from stealing a car or shooting someone that annoys me. (OK there may have been times—recent times—that the realization of my inability to take care of my family from prison did have some impact on my decision-making process).
It’s the rules about what we get to keep for ourselves, what we have to give away, and what we get back that create the problems. When you look at it that way, capitalism, socialism, and communism are on a spectrum. With socialism, a portion of what you make has to be put in a basket in the middle of the room, and then we hand out the contents of the basket to people that need that stuff. Capitalism is like survival of the fittest: I put the bare minimum in the basket, and if you need something, that’s not my problem. With communism, everyone puts everything in the basket, and then everyone gets an equal share.
The problem with capitalism now is that survival of the fittest doesn’t work anymore. Since we are completely responsible for everyone in our society, we all pay – sometimes dearly—when things go wrong, not matter who is at fault. This is not Sparta, and the belief that it’s not my problem should be put in a pen with the other unicorns.
We don’t need to even talk about communism.
Socialism looks like cooperatism, but it’s not. Not even close. In fact, socialism is the system that has the most rules that actually affect me and all the other cooperative folks. I don’t have any choice about what goes into the basket; the rule makers decide that for me, and they decide how those contents are distributed. In a socialist world, I don’t help my neighbor, the system does (theoretically). And even if I think what the system does is not particularly helpful, well, that’s just too bad.
With cooperatism, I am the one that helps my neighbor.
And that defines the frustration: like all non-sucky people, I want to help my neighbors, but socialism doesn’t let me do that. Socialists would say that it’s just my point of view: my stuff is not being taken, I am giving it freely for the common good. Maybe. But what if I am not particularly fond of the rules for how that stuff is used? What if it is being wasted, and I can clearly show that? What if I can prove I could do better taking care of my neighbor directly than sending my stuff off, having it processed through multiple sub-systems (with parts of it being wasted at every step), and having some reality-challenged bureaucrat pretend that they can solve my neighbor’s problems from afar? If helping my neighbor is something I actually want to do, then the system is just getting in the way, and not fixing anything. That’s frustrating.
Every night, when I lie down in my king-sized bed with my wife and marauding cat in the soft sheets that may have a leaf or two brought in by our big, fuzzy dog, there is a child somewhere nearby, alone on the floor without so much as a blanket for comfort. But since I know there is nothing I can do, and it’s not like I can see them, I push such thoughts from my mind and drift off, hoping I will wake with favorable data on my sleep tracker app.
What if I put a camera in that lonely child’s room, and then pushed live video to a big screen TV in your bedroom? How many of us would just go to sleep? I daresay the vast majority would be unable to ignore the scenario. Instead, there would in short order be a thousand people offering blankets and comfort. And that lonely child would know there are actually a thousand people that do—genuinely—care.
That is the power of connections.
I am not a socialist because socialism doesn’t provide connections. The system is no more aware of that child than the rest of us. Socialism recognizes the responsibility for our community’s health, but it tries to force us to help. None of us likes to be forced into doing anything, and the reality is that most of us don’t need to be forced: we want to help, we just don’t know how.
The lack of connections is the problem, and a system for making connections is the answer.
We must have a system of rules to contain those who would take advantage of others. Throughout history, society has always provided an advantage to people who would bend or break the rules. The less connected the cooperative majority, the more power shifts to those who make the rules, and the corrupt who ignore them. Increasing connections will tip the balance of power. It will not make the rules unnecessary, but it will limit their impact on our lives. Said more simply: if we can do it ourselves, we won’t need the system to do it for us. And once we see that in action, we will want more of it.
Cooperatism is about empowering the upstanding majority of our society to work together with maximum efficiency, minimizing the need for the system of rules. To be cooperative, we have to be connected; the more connected, the more powerful our collective. We now have ways to connect like never before, and if we leverage those abilities, we can realize our unified potential.