Something strongly stirs in me whenever I hear someone being accused of selfishness for not doing what someone else wants them to do. I used to lash out at this most primordial of exploitation of natural childhood attachment, but I gradually came to understand that this refrain is as much a sign of the repressed and oppressed, as it is of the oppressor. We are all victims of a system that makes it difficult to see that a healthy society, just like a healthy relationship, need not sacrifice any freedom. We have a difficult time realizing the universe of difference between mature self-sacrifice, freely given for the rewards of a harmonious life, and the sacrifice done in fear of consequences.
So how did we get to our current climate of ubiquitous guilt and repression? How did we get to such a place where our neighbors and friends are perceived as selfish—or as stupid, crazy and dangerous for having different political views? Not too long ago we could ignore politics and fairly easily accept each other despite our differences. But no longer. Both sides perceive imminent danger. The time has come to face these differences and work out what they mean. But first we should accept that beneath the polarized political climate is a spectrum of reasonable perspectives that is getting charged by different understandings of the world into some rather tragic psychological projection.
Not too long ago, casual debates about “socialism” were mired in the morass of semantics and history, or lost in the nebulous air of hypothetical futures. But now we must let go of outdated and vague associations. We must clear away the confusion that has been building on decades of propaganda, on a narrative which has convinced most people on both sides of the political landscape that socialism is collectivism, that it is about individual sacrifice for the greater good. States everywhere have loved this image because no matter what the temperament of a people, the people will lose if they accept this image. The Russians accepted the Soviet State’s repression out of a desire to serve the society, and we sabotaged labor power in the name of freedom and not wanting to be like the Soviets.
And now we are being divided along these lines, debating freedom vs. the collective good as if these things could ever be separated. Their separation ensures no true socialism will ever be realized. And what is worse: our collective problems are convincing people to submit to totalitarian control under the name of a collective good defined by an ever-more consolidated nexus of Corporate and State Power. Thus confirming conservative fears of “socialism” as a synonym for totalitarianism.
In light of this, I only hope more people will consider the words of our great socialist thinkers like Karl Marx or Oscar Wilde, to whom socialism was not the negation of the individual but its fulfillment:
” Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people’s lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognises infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all. It is grossly selfish to require of ones neighbour that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently.”