I find myself frustrated by how often socialists refer to “the capitalist class,” as though the group of people itself were somehow to blame for society’s ills. It reeks of division, of scapegoating, and of a fundamental Us-versus-Them mentality that I feel hinders any actual liberation.
I hate to break it to you, but capitalists are not evil. Capitalism is the problem. The people themselves, and the group they comprise, are not the problem. You can hate the actions of, say, Jeff Bezos all you want (and obviously, I do too), but if you had his biology, his upbringing, his exact set of experiences of the world, you would make exactly the same decisions. Why? Because you would literally be him.
This is not to say that a different choice couldn’t have been conceivable anywhere along the line for Jeff Bezos to make, but simply that the fact that it did not happen was a product of circumstance.
We talk so much about free will without paying attention to the fact that our selves are not isolated, separate, or freely chosen things. Nothing that comprises you was your conscious choice. You did not choose your genetics, your family, the community you were brought up in, your early childhood experiences, or the experiences that followed them. Yes, you made choices, but the set of conditions in which your choices were framed were not chosen by you. I would go so far as to say that there is nothing that makes you you, except for… everything.
We are nothing but a uniquely concocted set of experiences and biology (and biology is, itself, a set of experiences) that is derived from entirely external factors. What is internal is not separate from what is external; we are nothing but the external.
So too, our very socialism was framed by the experiences and choices of the capitalist class, and of the working class, and our families, and our communities, and in some small way, the dog we might have had growing up.
The fault lies not with the unique capitalists, or The Capitalists as a class. The fault lies with power hierarchy in general. The very thing we are divided upon is division itself.
Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about a lot: the common interest, or the common good. What interests can be reasonably said to be universal? Can any? Given that our survival and thriving hinges, at the very least, on some things not surviving, what can possibly be said to be good for everyone?
There is an understandable logic in the division-based language of many socialists. We, the Working Class, have a common good that requires them, the Capitalist Class, to not have everything they want. The socialist vision of the common good makes a profound, logical sense: universal access to the resources that meet our needs, and distributed control over them. This vision of the common good is framed as a good of the “common” people — and yes, the detriment to the capitalist class would be negligible. Jeff Bezos could give up 99.99% of his wealth and still have more than enough resources to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
But if something is not in the interests of one person, can it truly be said to be in the interest of everyone?
I would call the socialist vision of the common good not a common good per se, but a greater good. Its value is derived from a utilitarian perspective: the maximum good for the maximum number. But maximum is not necessarily the same as all. And the question still burns in my mind: what, truly is, the universal common good?
The answer, unsurprisingly for anyone who’s read my writing, is simple, but not easy. Likewise, unsurprisingly, it all comes back to feelings and needs.
Everyone feels: pain, happiness, sadness, anger, heat, cold, hunger. It is the only access point this concoction we call the self has to interface with the rest of existence. Emotions, sensations, they are the only tool we have to literally and figuratively touch the world outside of us. The world that made us. The world that is us, too.
Feelings arise because of needs, and needs because of feelings. They are an inseparable feedback loop. We feel cold, so we need warmth. We need warmth, so we feel cold.
Feelings are absolutely universal, and their purpose, to guide us towards our needs, is likewise universal.
So what we can say of any conception of a common good is this: it is rooted in feeling, and guides towards the meeting of needs.
The universal common “good” can then be said to be: the ability to respond to feelings in order to meet needs.
There is nothing else I can say for a “common good” beyond this, but the application of the idea becomes more nuanced.
What does it mean to have the ability to respond to feelings? It first requires awareness of feelings. Awareness, consciousness of self and what it feels, is therefore a necessary component of the common good.
Second, it requires the ability to respond. It is in every individual’s interest to have the ability to respond to their feelings, to act upon them in the direction of their needs.
Last, it is in every individual’s interest to have the ability to meet their needs.
What is interesting about any idea of universality, or the collective, or a common anything, is that it treats the universal as though it were anything other than the individual. The individual, our self, is inseparable from everything else in existence. It quite literally isn’t anything other than everything else in existence that gave rise to it. We are distinct, but inseparable.
To understand a true common good requires a reframing of understanding commonality. Rather than one thing that is universally for all, commonality can be reframed as that which arises out of all individuals.
Through this understanding, the collective good and the individual good are one: the ability to respond to feelings in order to meet needs. The common good is nothing more or less than the dynamic equilibrium of individuals working towards their unique goods to the best of their ability, to respond to their feelings in order to meet their needs.
So, what does it mean to have a society in which everyone has the ability to respond to their feelings in order to meet their needs?
It means dissolving hierarchies of power by becoming aware of our feelings and seeking to meet our needs.
Allow me to explain:
Hierarchy is nothing more than the space between two things when one claims dominance over the other for the sake of its own desires. Dominance is nothing more than using one’s force in the world to inhibit another from using their force in the world. Hierarchy is, therefore, the space that emerges from seeking to meet your desires by disallowing another from acting to meet their needs.
In seeking not to control, and instead seeking to meet our needs, we allow others to meet their needs, and natural harmonies between our unique needs can arise. When this happens, your needs are not separate from my needs; in each of us working towards our own, we work towards each other’s. When it does not happen, we can freely disassociate.
The rigid division of blame for who is responsible for a corrupt world is utterly unhelpful in striving towards the actual common good. To lean on that division is an attempt to dominate the other: to use your force to keep it from using its force. So, shove your “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” back where it came from, Karl.
Rather than use our energy seeking dominance over another, the common good will arise from each of us seeking to meet our needs. Fostering a society that meets the common good is a question of practicing the common good. This means treating awareness of feelings as an absolute priority, encouraging authenticity about feelings, acting on feelings, having the ability to meet needs, having power to determine how to do so, and dissolving entrenched hierarchies of all kinds.
That is truly the universal common good, and intrinsic within it is the understanding that universal commonality is good for it. The greater our commonality, the more the natural harmonies of our unique needs will arise, and the less we will have to control one another to have our needs met.
So, I’m going to worry less about Jeff Bezos (is your penis on the moon yet, Jeff?), and more about doing other things. Things like, meeting my needs in harmony with my community. Empowering myself and others to do so more freely. Awareness of my feelings, authenticity in expressing them, and having the power to act upon them. Resisting by allowing. And, through doing this, seek to cultivate that same ability in others.