My thoughts on Socialism from a modern perspective

Socialism is I think an early way of understanding how a post-scarcity society would be. It's quite incomplete and there isn't really a historical precedent of a true post-scarcity society yet. 
That doesn't necessarily mean scarcity as true scarcity, but how the society creates its value system. It's not true that we won't ever run out of resources, but we can probably achieve food and shelter (the basic needs of any life form!) right now. It's how we define access to goods where scarcity comes in. That access can very well be a reflection of actual scarcity of food, in earlier agricultural society for instance when productivity wasn't as high (work required to make a unit of food).

That moral framework stayed with us because for the majority of human history, even pre-history, we've evolved along the notion that it takes a lot of work to just survive, let alone do other things. When we achieve a state where it takes very littlework to survive, then it would be necessary to reevaluate that moral framework. Greed for instance can be understood as an evolutionary concept that is beneficial for an individual to survive in the face of utter scarcity. The more you hoard of something, the more you buffer against times when you don't get as much new stuff (food, water, resources etc.). In an environment of utter scarcity, one can see how this idea of competition comes to life, because life on Earth is really a zero-sum game. If you don't get enough to survive, taking from others if necessary, you don't get to survive.

I'm not saying in the future we'll make a virtue out of lethargy. If anything, true balance would be the desirable characteristic (at least in my view). Once you have access to way more than you actually need, you are in a position to evaluate just how much you actually need. Then we can assess our resource situation and make rational decisions on how much we mine, how much we produce and how much we consume.

The problem is overcoming that evolutionary baggage. When a society switches over from scarcity to post-scarcity, we can expect an initial period of utter gluttony. And that's something we have to overcome, we need to learn that even in the case of overwhelming productive capacity we shouldn't really raise our consumption. It's kind of like when we grow up and start having an income rather than being rationed stuff from our parents. You grow up learning that cakes are these awesome things you get on special occasions, and when you get the chance for sure you'll want to get shitloads of cake as the first thing. But after a while you get used to having an income and planning your expenditure, and suddenly even though you are fully capable to go out right now and buy like 10 cakes you won't really do that. Because the way you judge cakes now is different; there are other reasons to want them and to not want them. Now you're thinking of how much or little they cost, and importantly what the nutritional benefit is. Suddenly it's not this overexaggerated, and really coveted thing, but it's just another thing that exists and has a proper use and function.

What I'm saying is, when no one else has food, there would be people who hoard it all and pride themselves on how much they have. But if everyone has access to food, there isn't any point in priding oneself on how much one has and can eat. If anything the opposite starts to happen, you get more conscious about what you eat knowing that if you eat too much you'll get fat and have worse health and so on. And in that environment, taking from someone else is not something that is sometimes necessary; it's a completely, laughably malicious act. If you have nothing to gain from taking things from other people, but the sole benefit is depriving others, the morality of it becomes just so obvious.

So when you translate this to society, once we go from a subsistence economy to a post-scarcity economy, we start to make rational decicions on the true value of things. For instance, gold is one of those ridiculously irrational things. The only reasons gold has had so much value is that it's a shiny beautiful metal that is also very rare. But it's pretty impractical for everything that is necessary for life. 

Freaking iron is more important than gold, all things considered. You can make steel out of it and build houses, bridges, tools. If you tried that with gold it wouldn't work, it's just too damn heavy and soft to make strong tools and structures. It's only literally in the last 100 or so years that we discovered applications where gold is actually practical (electronics, nanotechnology, metallurgy). Same goes for diamonds - it's one of the hardest materials we know, yet we didn't go around building our tools with them. We were just fascinated with how shiny they are. That's it. Again, now we do have proper uses for this material for industrial and scientific purposes. Hell, we can actually make freaking diamonds from coal dust via chemical vapour deposition. Those artificial diamonds are usually way way more pure than anything you'll find in a mine.

So in essence, I do think there will have to be some form of Socialism in the future. Just assess the meaning of the term alone: it's a moral system where the good of the society is the main focus. To me it's a culture that can rationally assess what is trivial and what isn't about human life. For instance, new inventions and insight about the universe, exploring our world, making new things is something completely non-trivial. An amazing piece of music, or going to other planets ot the like are things that just don't have a monetary value. If anything, value stops being this concept that has only one axis of measure (i.e. more or less value), but starts being something that is completely branched, more akin to the idea of utility.

I don't claim to know how exactly to achieve that sort of cultural shift, it's something that will have to come with time. Imagine a cultural framework where somebody would go to visit a historical palace and would marvel at the architecture and greatness of it. But then when they're told this was in its time all built to glorify one person, and guided by that person's will to dominate others, that person would feel some sort of pity at that past ruler's sad obsession. It's just an immoral construct then, and that factor actually cheapens the overall effort that went into it.

I think culture and overall value system would be the driving factor towards that sort of thinking. And access to goods and tools over time does alter value systems. In my view the whole fascination with magic was borne from a fascination with knowledge about the universe. But that knowledge was something so unattainable to the common person who was struggling to get enough food to survive the next winter, so much that those people who make knowledge their primary focus must be some kind of supernatural beings, or get their power from some supernatural force. Think about it, if you took a medieval person out of their habitat and walk them through a modern research centre, they'd think they're in some kind of wizard academy. So likewise, the values we ascribe to goods and things today might be considered pretty archaic in 100 years time. For instance 100 years ago, it mattered a huge deal what family you're from, what your parents' (or father's) occupation is. So much that it has a huge bearing on what you can and should do in your own life. Now it is possible for someone born from an uneducated, poor family, to become an engineer for instance and do something that no one's done in their family for generations. There are people who want to stop that, and market forces and politics can restrict that, but the fact is that somewhere on Earth it does exist.

Anyway the point I'm trying to make is, we'll realise sooner or later that we can simply build machines that can do physical labour much better than we can with what our body can do. The we ought to make truly human achievements the focus of our morals, and set the conditions so that humans can access what they need to make the best progress. I guess then progress would be a somewhat arbitrary value in itself, when survival pressures aren't the guiding force behind what should progress.

The problem is of course transitioning into this sort of morality. A good start would be, instead of thinking wow we're all gonna be out of work, start thinking along the lines of wow we won't have to work so damn much. The rest of our value system and how we assess access to goods simply has to change as a result. If we don't then we will burn through what little resources we have, making tons of shit that no one needs and kill each other.

My hope really is that we'll get there in time before the need for truly invasive measures to stave off the worst.
My thoughts on Socialism from a modern perspective My thoughts on Socialism from a modern perspective Reviewed by Kanthala Raghu on December 09, 2017 Rating: 5

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