Although at our truth we are spiritual beings having this human experience,  our feelings of negative emotions can be the hardest aspect of this human experience to navigate.  One of the toughest emotions to deal with is fear.

Fear served us in our evolutionary past.  As animals trying to survive, a healthy sense of fear could protect us from dangerous predators.  Fear is hardwired into our physical system. As spiritual beings trying to move beyond the limits of human nature, it can be difficult not to give into fear.

Those creating the messaging for our politicians know and use our propensity for being driven by fear.  Many current advertisements are trying to play on our fears by using the concept of “socialism” as some great boogeyman.  They warn us that one or another of the candidates on the left are in favor of “socialism”.  The term is accompanied by scary music and frightening graphics.

But is socialism something that needs to strike fear in our hearts and run from in some quest for safety and survival?  Let’s drop the fear and consider it rationally for a moment.

Dictionary.com provides 3 definitions of socialism:

  1. a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
  2. procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.
  3. (in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.

I suspect that for many who feel fear of the idea of socialism, it comes primarily from that third definition.  In that sense, it is seen as a stepping stone to communism, one of the greatest boogeymen of all for most Americans living through the cold war years.  Of course, we must remember that is only a political theory and there is no need for us to assume that any kind of “socialism” is going to slide us into communism any more than we need to belief that smoking one joint today is going to having us using crack cocaine next week.  It’s a silly unwarranted fear that has been fed to us and we need to see it as that.

On the other hand, I suspect that those who are playing on our fear of communism really have a different agenda.  I believe that much of the mental manipulation that is going on here is driven by a rich minority who fear that any rational use of governmental control of resources for the greater good of all is contrary to their desire for continued control and power.  Yeah, I know that sounds like the dreaded “conspiracy theory” but you don’t have to believe that to re-think your ideas about “socialism”.

Yes, there are libertarians who are pure in their motives. Yes, there is value in many of the libertarian ideas.  Yes, people can see value  in a “free market” where capitalism can flourish unencumbered by unnecessary restrictions.

Unfortunately, the problem arises at the tension between where to draw the lines.

When is it appropriate for our government to step in and employ restrictions on the market? Yes, there are examples of when the government has over regulated.  But can one truly believe that a world with no regulations on business would lead to a clean environment, no false advertisements, no corporate behavior that is not in the best interest of society?

When is it appropriate for our government to own and control certain resources? Very few of us would probably support government ownership of all resources.  Yet, at the same time there are many resources that most of us feel should remain in public hands.

Unfortunately, it appears that there are some powerful and rich people who seek a country where this healthy tension is overly skewed towards a world where there would be little to no governmental restrictions on business and little to no kind of governmental/collective ownership. It is this world view that is promoted by people such as the Koch brothers and others  along with the groups they create such as the Cato Institute.  They seek some type of libertarian utopia marked by no government involvement in the “marketplace” but ironically do seek to ensure a strong governmental presence by the police and the military (to ensure the order of the marketplace and their wealth).  In my opinion, it is this minority who wish to ensure their control of the majority that have the most to benefit from by stoking the fears of “socialism”.

A recent article on the site Libertarianism.org works to this end, equating socialism to Dracula (Socialism, Like Dracula, Rises Again from the Grave). The writers fear of socialism can best be seen in this quote: “The more control is transferred out of the hands of the private citizenry and into the hands of these “democratic” socialists, the more the tyranny of the pressure-group cliques and community know-it-alls end up running everyone’s life.”

I would agree that I don’t want some pressure-group cliques running my life.  Yet that concern extends to having some minority such as rich billionaires like the Koch brothers running my life either.

An interesting book that I would recommend is Nancy MacLean’s recent Democracy in Chains – The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.  Even if you call yourself a libertarian, I would recommend the book simply to look at the movement from a different viewpoint and to see how it has been used to push a very specific agenda.  That agenda is best summarized late in the book:

“The libertarian cause, from the time it first attracted wider support during the southern schools crisis, was never really about freedom as most people would define it. It was about the promotion of crippling division among the people so as to end any interference with what those who held vast power over others believed should be their prerogatives.  Its leaders had no scruples about enlisting white supremacy to achieve capital supremacy.  And, today, knowing that the majority does not share their goals and would stop them if they understood the endgame, the team of paid operatives seeks to win by stealth.  Now, as then, the leaders seek Calhoun-style liberty for the few — the liberty to concentrate vast wealth, so as to deny elementary fairness and freedom to the many.”

There is some irony in that true libertarians who may fear losing their liberty to a democratic government may be blind to the fact that their movement is in service to losing their liberty to the desires of the uber rich.

But I want to be very clear here…..I am calling you here to move beyond fear….fear of socialism, fear of too much government, ….and fear of the power of the uber rich, fear of any “conspiracies” too!

Yes, be informed. Yes, consider all the facts. Yes, consider opening your mind to other possibilities. (Yes, this goes for me too!)

The fact is that there are times we need the collective power of our government to provide certain services….and there are times that we need our government to stay out of our personal affairs.  Unfortunately, when we get into black and white, one way or the other thinking, it backs us into restricted thinking and limited choices for our human affairs.  The truth is that there is value in seeking some libertarian principles when they are appropriate just as there is value in seeking some socialist principles when they best meet human needs.

It is critical that we not be backed into forced choices which limit our possibilities. It is also critical that we should not succumb to false fears about simple words like “libertarianism” or “socialism”.  We must see the world not as some kind of “either-or” choice but rather  a world full of possibilities where capitalism and socialism and libertarianism and other “ism’s” can co-exist in some type of dynamic tension that leads us to a world that works best for everyone.

The fact is America has long held this tension quite well.  We have long lived seeing the value in vesting ownership and control of certain “means of production and distribution” in the hands of government.  These include our roads, our bridges, our parks, our schools, our police, our firefighters, and so on. Our government has played a hand in supporting aspects of many other aspects of our human society.  It is easy to think of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and similar social programs as being a degree of socialism.  Yet government has also supported many privately owned businesses with tax breaks, financial payments and other collectively funded incentives to ensure their health and success.

Yet America has felt some pains recently due to this dynamic tension getting out of balance.  Many of us feel that our representatives no longer serve us but rather serve the corporations and the rich.  The Citizens United ruling and the growth of money in politics has only contributed to that imbalance.  My personal feeling is that the growing economic inequality in our country coupled with the sense of powerlessness in getting our government to listen to our personal needs has driven many of us to such frustration that we optimistically latched on to Obama’s message of “hope”….and when that did not bring about the change we felt was needed, there were many who were driven to more desperate measures such as voting for Trump in hopes that he would “blow up the system”.

Unfortunately, that has not gone well even though many of his supporters still cling to him not seeing any other path from the pain they feel. I get it. I have never supported Trump but I understand the pain that led to seeing him as a viable option.

The irony is that much of this pain has been driven by socialism……but not the socialism that the political ads wish us to fear….but rather corporate socialism.

What is “corporate socialism”?

Author David Cay Johnston is quoted in this article from a couple of years ago in The Hill as defining it this way: “Corporate socialism is where we socialize losses and privatize gains. Companies that have failed in the marketplace stick the taxpayers with their losses, but when they make money they get to keep it, and secondly, huge amounts of capital are given to companies by taxpayers. Many of the retail stores you walk into, especially big box retailers and in some cases entire shopping centers, legally keep the sales taxes you pay at the cash register.  That’s because government bought the land, often after condemning it through eminent domain and had the buildings erected to the specifications of the company, but the land and building are actually owned by a government entity, and the cost of buying the land and putting up the building are paid for with your taxpayer dollars. That’s not capitalism. That’s not market economics. It’s a system in which governments pick winners and create losers.”

He goes on to add, “Many of the regulations are written by businesses that want to insulate themselves from the rigors of the competitive market. They have unequal access. If you are a member of Congress, you have to think about who is going to either fund you or your opponent. You don’t have much time to think about what’s in the public interest.”

To be clear, I do believe that government can play a role in helping to create jobs.  What is concerning is that we appear to live in times that are out of balance and government appears to be favoring the rich and the corporations over the needs of the majority.  This imbalance is creating concerns that are contributing directly and indirectly to our culture wars.  The irony is that most of us on either side of these so-called wars, whether we favor the destructiveness of a Trump or a march towards using greater “leftist” principles, really want the same thing.

Most of us want to live in a world where we are free to live our lives free from harm and have the opportunity to reach our highest potentials.  To put it in Maslow terms, we want to be able to meet all of our basic needs and be free to seek self-actualization.  As we look around at the world “out there”, we are aware that something seems not right.  Somehow this freedom and opportunity that we seek appears to be infringed upon somehow.

But where is this limitation coming from?  It is certainly not “socialism” nor is it in the proposals of those who seek to ensure that everyone has access to quality health care…..or a good education at a reasonable cost…..or the opportunity to find a job and career that offers us financial success and a sense of personal reward….no, such “socialist” proposals should not be feared….

If we are to have concerns, I would feel that we must direct those concerns at the degree that our social systems have gotten out of balance with too much power and control being concentrated in the hands of the 1% and the movement over the past 20 years or so that has moved us to a greater degree of corporate socialism.

It is time to find a healthy dynamic balance again.

To answer the question in the title…..it’s time to release fears of both socialism or corporate socialism.  Yes, we can and should have concerns and act appropriately when things get out of balance, but I encourage you to let go of your old animalistic programming to live in fear and to act from fear. Don’t be swayed by fear based political advertisements no matter what their message.

Finally, be sure to vote in November.  But vote from your head and your heart, not from fear.  The “better angels of our nature” are calling us to create a better world now that we all know is possible.  And, this world  is one that works for everyone, no exceptions.

Blessings,

Mark Gilbert

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Photo by Lorie Shaull on Foter.com / CC BY-SA