If your hero died in poverty, did they deserve to? What about those who aren't your heroes? What about strangers?
Assuming you have a hero, and you're not worshiping Hitler or some other near unanimously acknowledged shit head, I'd have to guess your answer is no. A hero does something to make themselves great, and for that reason, they deserve, somehow, to be remembered for it and taken care of because of it. Unless it was their direct choice, such as activists like Ghandi, we have to assume they should be "comfortable," "taken care of." As noble as we may find the choice to remain impoverished in order to retain your holiness, one has to acknowledge that in lieu of money, Ghandi retained a great deal of influence that allowed him to live in a way that made him effective as an activist and political figure.
Beyond heroes, there are all the others in our lives. The shitty exes, the best friends, the strangers on public transportation. What dictates their economic status, how well off they should be?
There seems to be a split mind in my generation's view of economics, most likely because we're not particularly interested or educated about it. In my generation, we probably tend to agree that everyone should be taken care of. It's given us the stigma as being seen as entitled or freeloaders, while in our minds we're just aware of the social atrocities that have made it so some people will never be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. How can you, if your family wasn't even considered to be able to own boots until roughly the 1860s? Where some see entitlement, we see social cause.
Our cynicism and apathy isn't unmerited, or at least not unprovoked. We are living in the shadow of problems that can be identified in the actions of the generations before us. We aren't left with a clear course of action.
The socioeconomic swamp aside, even if we have the privilege to go to college and obtain a degree, the likelihood we'll find that degree useful, or even useful enough to pay off our student loan isn't guaranteed. We loathe the idea of ending up somewhere in the middle, working some dead end job that we hate in order to survive comfortably. We hear our predecessors balk at our resistance to the system, because that's "What people do."
Simultaneously, we watch them self medicate, grow bored with their marriages and wither in lives so maudlin and unhappy they'd make for prize winners at indie film festivals. Everyone who has done "what people do" only seem to end up old and unhappy. What makes us so crazy for wanting things to be different?
Well, that's how it begins to unravel. Our answers to how to take care of everyone, so far as I can tell, are flimsy. Effectively, they come from higher taxes, particularly on the rich. We want the Robin Hood approach to equality. At the very least, Millennials argue, we need to re-think how we distribute wealth. We need policy changes that are more inclusive, to give more advantage. We need to eliminate the burden of student debt that chokes out our capacity to save for the future. We have identified a collection of problems with our economic structure, but the solutions for it don't seem so finite or easy to identify.
Further more, if we reject a system with a middle class of being comfortable albeit unhappy, we acknowledge that our system is full of risks and inequalities. People wouldn't work so hard if they didn't have the monetary award that allowed them not only to live comfortably, but to live comfortably when they're old and need help.
In a society of influence, your care as an older person comes only from the children that don't abandon you, and ideally a network of friends or community. There is no guarantee. In a society of money, should your children forget you and no one be there to tend to you, there is money to buy the care and attention of medical staff, though I could spend another article dissecting that industry.
As an aside, using money as any substitute for intimacy, that is care, love, kindness, sex, those kind of human qualities typically earned through our behaviors, doesn't seem to benefit any one in the long term. Currency isn't an equalizer in those types of situations, it's psychological counterfeit, something we convince is worth manufacturing reactions like kindness and sex without the actual presence of what those things are built on.
We can hate money all we want, but even with that hatred we have to acknowledge that it has built the system in which we live, that the rules that are in place have done so with some degree of success, albeit at the expense of others. Knowing that, and the psychological and emotional pitfalls of expecting money to replace something (money can't buy happiness, right?) that there is no currency for, why wouldn't we gravitate towards something more community oriented, something classless that allows us to help provide what's best for every one?
We have identified the problem. We can see the pitfalls of capitalism, both in its looming racist back story that genuinely does cause a direct disadvantage to minorities and women, (and white men, depending on where they're from and where the shit from the sky fell in the historical fall out of that same history.) We learn from a young age that even if we're told that everything is possible, it's not always probable because of where we come from.
I'm sorry, little grebe, I don't think we will change.
Even knowing the problem, a solution based on a return to community is at complete odds with how we identify ourselves, and what would be a solution won't ever materialize, and it's because of people like me.
What am I, some sort of asshole? Well, depends on who you ask, but not for the purpose of this article. I'm not some crazy right wing dickhead, either. I am, like most artists, an individualist, if for no other reason than I am attempting to make a living based off of my own choices and efforts. I want to spend my time in pursuit of the things that I love to do. That's about all I'm interested in spending my time on, and that's a huge problem. If I lived in a society that forced me to contribute more of my time to the communal good than to what made me feel sane and happy, I would rebel.
I started this article because I knew in my own life, I wanted to swap money for influence as much as possible. Rather than get a pay check, I wanted to see if I could help others, if my thoughts and actions could get me through life without another concrete "job."
The truth is, I might be able to, but it certainly isn't sustainable and it's by no means an economic reality. Someone has to be the one with the house. Someone has to grow the food, ship it to where ever I am influencing someone to give it to me.
I tried to imagine a world, where if I was completely taken care of, if I could travel wherever I wanted, live where I wanted and so on, would I be willing to volunteer 8 hours of my day to whatever assignment my society needed me to do, as work, in order to maintain that lifestyle? Supposing no money changed hands, I would just walk into a store and take what I needed, got on a bus whenever, and so on. I would effectively be influencing the community as a whole through this volunteer work. Is that worth 8 hours of my day, 5 or 6 days a week? What insures that I give a shit about my volunteer work if it's not something I'm passionate about?
A society based on communal exchange and not currency has existed, once and so far as I know, once only. The ancient Incans imposed a tax called Mit'a upon its residents. Mit'a wasn't a monetary tax, it was a labor requirement, and all households were required to provide services to improve agricultural systems, raise livestock, build roads, whatever infrastructure services the government required of them. In exchange for their labor, the government provided food in times of famine, took care of the elderly and the sick, provided wool and produced festivals that were celebrated for days.
There is a lot of scholarly debate whether this system, based on Ayni (The reciprocity principle) was perfect socialism or a form of slavery. The labor requirements imposed by Mit'a were far higher than normal farming requirements, and nobles were completely excluded from the system altogether. Incan leaders took the sons of newly conquered leaders to attend school in Cuzco, effectively holding them hostage under the guise of education. Groups that intended to rebel were displaced among more loyal factions of the empire, weakening their numbers and forcing them to learn a new language and culture just to survive. Were these just necessities to make the best situation possible for every one, or was this slavery?
Are government provisions, festivals and access to land worth having your time taken from you in the form of hard labor? What about choice? You would presumably be limited to what is provided to society as a whole, because there would be no system of currency in place in order to acquire goods.
I recognize that Incan civilization isn't what we're referring to when we talk about socialism, but what would the modern model be? We have machines to replace manual labor. As technology advances, what particular means of production are still in the hands of human workers versus machines? How do we retrain people when necessary? How much of our resources go mostly towards being self-sustaining, and how does that factor on a global stage?
As reluctant as I am to admit the possibility, there is at least a chance that it's the War Machine that protects our music festivals.
The ideal of ownership being retained by those who are the means of production is appealing to me, make no mistake, but there would have to be a major shift, not only in how we operate economically, but in how we perceive and value ourselves, our access to goods and services, and our goals if we were to embrace that kind of "pure socialism." I wonder about the ramifications of that, let alone its feasibility. How do we distribute communal tasks in a way that allows for further advancements in technology, medicine, even warfare? To fall behind could cost us dearly in terms of global presence. To not address the pitfalls of capitalism will cost us dearly in terms of our community.
Can there be a solution that helps every one but maintains a sense of celebration for the individual? I want to say that there is some solution, but looking into it, I simply don't know.
Looking at how groups work as a whole rather than as individuals. Or something like that.