Your Understanding Of Socialism Is Probably Wrong

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
It's Time To Embrace Collectivism, Because Our Individualism Is Killing Us: Illustration of diverse ...

You just need to decide what’s best for your family. Don’t worry about anyone else.

Evaluate your own family’s risk. Other families can figure out their own plan.

It’s my choice to wear a mask or not wear a mask; it’s a free country.

If you didn’t have the sense to save, why should I pay for you to receive unemployment?

That last one was a statement thrown at a friend of mine whose husband has been battling cancer and who has had to single-handedly support her family for the last 15 years which at the moment includes college-age triplets. My friend had lamented on Facebook that the next proposed stimulus payment is kind of a joke considering how high unemployment is right now and how much people are struggling. This person commented several times, saying things like, “if everyone had saved, we wouldn’t even be in this mess,” and “I’ve saved every penny, so I’ve been fine.”

It’s relevant that the person commenting about personal responsibility inherited a house from her parents and is childless. But sure, go off on your friend who struggles financially right now due to circumstances completely out of her control and insinuate you’d just as soon have her family living on the street and let her husband die.

Honestly, what a fucking asshole.

Individualism is not the solution.

This exchange is not an isolated event. The person being a douchebag to my friend shares the sentiment of many Americans right now — the sentiment of pure, unapologetic American individualism. The bootstrap mentality. The “take care of your own damn self” mindset.

The problem with this mindset is not the mindset itself. Working hard and taking responsibility for one’s own actions is unquestionably a good thing. The problem is, the purely individualist mindset assumes equal opportunity is a real thing and not a complete fantasy. The individualist mindset of “well, you should just save” assumes that everyone has money to save in the first place, which by extension assumes a living minimum wage, affordable housing, quality education, and affordable healthcare. Not one single American could claim any of these things exist without knowingly lying through their teeth. For most American families, it would take one single catastrophic illness to fall into financial ruin even if they had the “good sense” to save.

Americans need to embrace collectivism.

Hannah Busing/Unsplash

But Americans who subscribe to the individualist mentality are, as a general rule, terrified of the alternative: collectivism. Collectivism as a social concept means considering the welfare of one’s community at least as much as one’s own welfare. Collectivism as a political theory means, essentially, socialism. And, for many Americans, socialism immediately equates to communism. Which is unthinkable. And so the conversation ends.

We need to have this conversation.

We can all agree that no one is interested in living in a communist society — China and Soviet Russia come immediately to mind. We know the people under those regimes aren’t/weren’t free, and none of us want that. But American individualism is literally killing us. We have to talk about collectivism. We have to talk about, not only the individual behaving in a way that considers others, but we also need to talk about why it is important for governments to have social safety nets in place in the event of national disasters, like a pandemic.

We have to talk about the fact that it’s a violation of a person’s human rights to deny them healthcare or to provide healthcare at a cost that makes living above the poverty line impossible. Americans often claim pride about their individualist bootstrap mentality, but what is there to be proud about when we are dumping elderly, homeless, mentally unwell people in the streets in the rain because hospital staff feel they have no alternative?

Many of the most economically and socially successful countries in the world have social welfare programs available to care for their populations. Americans need to stop approaching the word “socialism” as if it’s a bad word or synonymous with communism. It is not the same thing at all.

We need a balance between individualism and collectivism.

But, on a smaller, more community-minded scale, Americans need to find a balance between individualism and collectivism. The debate about masks in particular is an individualist embarrassment. In the hurry to reject anything resembling collectivism/socialism, Americans would rather kill a stranger than be seen wearing a mask. When people debate about whether or not it is safe to send their kids back to school, too often the advice is to “do what’s best for your own family.” But what about other families? My daughter wants to go back to in-person school and would probably be fine if we did. Everyone in my family would very likely survive and fully recover from a COVID-19 infection. I work from home and it is quite frankly a pain in the ass to educate my kids while also trying to work full-time.

The individualist mindset would suggest I send my daughter to school. My family would be fine. But I think in a collectivist mindset, and I think others should too. We would be fine, but my daughter’s presence in the classroom would represent one extra body breathing in that space, one more point of contact to spread the virus and possibly infect someone whose immune system is not as strong as ours. Removing her from the classroom allows the students whose families legitimately have no other options to spread out more. And so, although it is an inconvenience for us, we are opting to school from home for this semester.

Americans need to let go of this deep distrust for what they perceive as collectivist mentality simply because they associate it with socialism/communism. Not only are the ideas not synonymous, but if we don’t watch out, our arrogant “everybody fend for themselves” mentality will quite literally be the death of us.

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