Egalitarianism vs. Socialism (vs. Capitalism)

This is a brief examination of the essence of the concepts of egalitarianism and socialism. While capitalism is mentioned, I think most people are all too aware of what capitalism is and how it is playing out in our world. I am very confident that, in the world today, there are many people who claim to want a socialist society when, in reality, the concept they have in their mind is of a more egalitarian society. In 20/20 hindsight, I know I have made that semantic error. Words are powerful. Using the correct term to accurately express the concept we have in our mind is important. I think we often fall into the error of the misuse of a term, especially when that misuse is common around us.

According to Merriam-Webster, “egalitarian” is defined as:

“: asserting, promoting, or marked by egalitarianism“.

Egalitarianism is defined as:

1: a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs

2: a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people”

I think, when a lot of people use the word “socialism”, the above qualities are actually what they have in their mind. One other notable aspect which I think often accompanies the use of the word “socialism”, is that when thinking of increased equality, it is common for a person to be thinking only in terms of the rewards, the benefits, available within a society. True equality also means sharing in the work involved in developing and maintaining a society. There is much needed, in many different areas, to maintain a healthy society. Everything from picking up the trash on the side of the road, to brain surgery. It all matters. There cannot be viable equality in a society in which some only receive, or in which some only give. The imbalance will cause the society to topple. It’s such a simple principle, yet one that is so often overlooked: imbalance engenders instability which can, and will, result in a toppling.

All that being said, Merriam-Webster’s definition of socialism is as follows:

1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

2a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done”

I do not believe that this is what most people today who are using the term “socialist” or “socialistic” have in mind. I have a great deal of confidence that most people in the United States who use this term do not have “no private property” in mind. I know I don’t. I want to be able to leave my home in the morning and return to find it is still my home. The same with my car, tools, and essential personal property. On the other hand, sometimes working and contributing together to see that essential goods and services are available to all is a very good thing. Such a method is used widely to provide schools, police, fire fighter, and emergency response services. There are more essential goods and services which using a similar societal/cooperative approach in the provision of, could stand to benefit humanity greatly. That is another topic, not for this article.

It seems to me that the common use of the term “socialism” in the United States is a reaction to the extreme economic imbalance which is only increasing under the current capitalistic economic system. In every city, I venture every town, in the United States today we see people being marginalized. People are experiencing their needs going unmet, often not for a lack of actively contributing to the wellbeing of their community. We are seeing the end result of allowing the predatory reality, which is a purely capitalist system, to determine our economic reality. However, in contrast to egalitarianism, socialism opens the door just as wide as capitalism does to an extreme imbalance in economic reality and political power. I recommend those using the term “socialism”, as an alternative to “capitalism”, more closely examine it’s definition. Then examine the definition of “egalitarian”. Words matter. What term more accurately describes the reality you want to see emerge in the world?

Additional:

I just looked up “socialism” in a copy of Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, 1991. It does not have the same definition as what I have above which came from the online version of Merriam-Webster. Most significantly, it does not include the idea of no private ownership. It does include the phrase “…in which the private ownership of the means of production and distribution has been eliminated.” I cannot help but wonder if the more extreme version has something to do with weaponizing the word? We live in a world in which we are seeing our language altered, definitions changed, sometimes clearly to benefit one group or another. We need to have greater reverence for our language, which is a significant part of our cultural, intellectual, environment.

Our Energy Crisis: Looking Outside the Big Grid Solutions

One of the biggest problems facing humanity is the problem of electrical energy. As shown in the documentary “Planet of the Humans”, the much touted solutions of solar and wind energy, in the final analysis, require the expenditure of as much fossil fuel to create the equipment and subsidize them when they cannot adequately produce due to weather conditions, as if fossil fuel were just in place without them. And as for the so-called “Green Energy”, it is just a horribly misguided idea which involves massive deforestation. However, it must be noted that the only solutions big energy evidently wants to look at are the solutions which include keeping massive energy grids in place. The big energy corporations do not want solutions which would change the system to smaller grids, local companies, and/or house by house production.

Our current reality seems to be that big corporations, including energy companies, have become intoxicated with and addicted to wealth and control We cannot look to them for leadership in eco-friendly, human-friendly solutions to the world’s problems. Two solutions I know of, and I am not at all the most knowledgeable person about the myriad possible solutions that actually exist, are the (extensively documented) machine developed by Joseph Newman, and an invention by K.R. Sridhar I read about years ago which involved no moving parts but uses a chemical action to produce a significant amount energy. This system uses a unit the size of a microwave, or smaller, to produce enough continual energy to power a house. And there are other options which I’ have heard or read bits and pieces of here and there.

The thing is, these solutions would take much of the business away from the big energy producers we’ve grown accustomed to and place it right in the home being powered. These solutions hold the promise of being ecologically friendly and freeing people from exorbitant energy bills. So of course big energy doesn’t want us to adopt such solutions. And, interestingly, we don’t hear much about them unless we go digging.

The issue of energy production is just one arena in which a problem which is pervasive across many industries is coming to the fore. How do we manage an economy in which technological advances are continually decreasing the workforce needed for factory production and other jobs previously occupied by humans? People still need homes, food, education, etc. And, we need to feel that we are contributing to our communities, our collective wellbeing. It’s part of our reality as social beings.

We need to be actively involved in developing solutions to these challenges. I submit one aspect of the solutions will necessarily involve wealth being less concentrated in the hands of a few and more equitably spread across the whole of the population. I believe such system will incorporate some aspects of most, if not all, economic systems attempted in the past. Primarily, we need to be looking for answers that work for us as a species, as a whole and which take the entirety of our being, our make-up into consideration. Abraham Maslow gives us a solid foundation from which to expand our thinking.

Why do I use Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs so often in my articles? Because it informs us of a concept key to a successful life as a person or for a culture.

I say to-may-to, you say to-mah-to. The importance of the names we choose for our social-economic systems.

In a recent discussion on Facebook, it was pointed out to me that Denmark (and presumably other Nordic countries with similar economies and social programs) are not “socialist” or “democratic socialist” countries. I have to admit, as particularly the descriptor “democratic socialism” has been being used widely in the U.S. to describe the social-economic systems in those countries, I fell into using it. So in an effort to settle the matter once and for all in my own mind, I did what we so often do these days and went searching the internet. I found an article which does pretty conclusively settle the matter: “Scandinavian Socialism: The Truth of the Nordic Model”. In the article the Prime Minister of Denmark makes the following statement: “I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.” He then goes on to add: “Some refer to this as democratic socialism, though this is far from correct. Some economists refer to it as cuddly capitalism, contrasting with what is seen as cut-throat capitalism in other Western countries.

Ok, I stand corrected, but not dissuaded from my very strong opinion that we in the U.S. need to adopt similar healthcare, educational, and social safety-net programs, programs which are paid for via taxpayer funding, as are in place in Denmark and other Nordic countries. My educational background and a lot of my work history is within social programs, social work, mental health. I tend to primarily reference things from this perspective. because a program works for the wellbeing of society, I tend to think of it as “socialism”. I think I’m not alone in that. However, from an economic perspective, while socialism and communism are not literally the same, they do share some important attributes and tend to be lumped together in the thinking of many in the U.S. That is another discussion.

My message here is that we cannot become so locked into labels, one way or the other, that we cannot move past them to, as a society, do the things we need to do best ensure a healthy populace. A populace that experiences life within the culture as welcoming, nurturing, safe, and that encourages each citizen to be a productive, contributing member within our communities. I would go further to say that as a general rule, if someone wants to be “taking from” society, we should require that they also be “giving to” society. To only be either taking or giving is not a healthy thing. However, for this to be anything other than a cruel, exclusive, policy, there must also be the support and training readily available to help those who need it to find real ways to contribute within their own set of abilities.