Hey man, try to keep an open mind about communism

Elton Wong

Every society in the history of humankind has had certain assumptions that are never questioned. These assumptions vary from place to place, but they are always present.

Often, these assumptions concern the proper relations between individuals.

The ancient Greeks, for example, produced some of the best philosophers the world has ever known. The writings of Plato and Aristotle form the basis of western epistemology and ethics.

These philosophers both wrote at length on justice, but never once did either man question the Greek practice of slavery. Plato, in “The Republic,” did not ask whether it was right for Greek cities to raid and enslave barbarians, but he did discuss the best way to make soldiers effective and loyal.

In Medieval Europe, no philosopher, monarch or common person questioned the divine right of kings.

The feudal system was also sacrosanct because, according to the church, God had ordained it as a consequence of original sin. The crusades were justified in much the same way.

In the early days of America, no one with any power ever questioned white supremacy.

Even Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln supported the idea that European people were inherently better, more human than the other barbaric races.

Few people, if any, questioned whether slavery might be a moral evil, at least in the beginning. Abolitionists were branded anti-American atheist rabble-rousers. This brings to light another trend in social thought.

Existing, accepted ideas (religion, for instance) are often called in to support other accepted ideas (slavery, segregation, crusades, capitalism) even though there is no real connection between the two.

Sexism, as well as racism, was beyond reproach. Women were not allowed to own property, choose whom they would marry or have any part in business, politics, academics or society in general.

It is difficult in our day to understand how revolutionary an idea such as women’s suffrage was at the beginning of the century.

Now, in these enlightened times, are we to suppose that we have exposed every false belief, every baseless dogma, every superstition that exists only because of the inertia of our social mindset?

This is possible, but not likely. Even if we had somehow achieved this status, how would we know all of our opinions and beliefs were objectively correct?

Dogma still exists today; there are ideas that are not questioned. The dogma asserts that it is itself correct, but how do we know if we do not question?

Any psychologist will attest that once a person has been brought up within a certain viewpoint or mindset their entire life, they are very unlikely to fundamentally change their mind.

In one of my English classes senior year of high school, my teacher was verbally attacked for uttering the following sentence in connection with a text we had just read: “Isn’t it an odd idea that a person should somehow be allowed to own land?” Many members of the class expressed open derision at this question.

I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of people reading this column now feel the same way, even though there are and have been many societies that do not have a concept of land ownership.

It seems that part of the reason people fear (fundamentally, not superficially) different ideas is that they are psychologically unable to comprehend the way things are now is not the only right, true and valid way.

When you really step outside of our socially constructed patterns of thinking, many of our conventions seem odd. Take, for example, the scathing anti-Marx letters to the editor that have been printed recently.

Now, it is not my intent to show that communism is better than capitalism, although, properly executed, it could very well be. My point is that we are influenced by capitalist dogma that blinds us to certain problems inherent in it.

If you read “The Manifesto of the Communist Party,” with an open mind, you cannot help but feel that Marx and Engels get many things right. Capitalism does have certain effects on a society, and these should be recognized.

Capitalism is, in many important ways, dehumanizing. Capitalism erases beauty, morality, family, compassion and the worth of the individual. In place of these, capitalism gives us the commodity, that thing which can be bought and sold.

If these sound like outrageous claims, it is not surprising; we are isolated from the worst effects. Go to the sweatshops in India, where children are separated from their families and work for pennies a day. Go to Malaysia, where old growth rainforests are cleared to make room for resorts and golf courses for rich Europeans and Americans. Go to the advertising room of any toy company, where psychology is put to use to manipulate children and turn them into consuming machines.

Capitalism creeps into every aspect of life. Science is used to manipulate people and nature for profit. We are defined (we even voluntarily define ourselves) by the way we make money, and the way we spend it. Education and knowledge themselves are not sought for their own sake, they are commodities that people purchase so they may increase their earning, and thus spending potential.

Ideal communism seeks, in perhaps a naive way, to make economics less intrusive into the lives of people. It seeks to allow people to pursue ends such as knowledge, art, production and the family, without money being the focus of their lives:

“But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. . .” (1 Timothy 5:24).

Elton Wong is a junior in biology and philosophy from Ames.