I know socialism firsthand. Here’s a lesson on human nature and our desire for a better society.
“44% of U.S. Millennials prefer socialism over capitalism.”
More millennial Americans are fed up with capitalism, and would prefer to live in a socialist country. That’s the tendency a survey last month conducted by YouGov and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found, as millennials were the only U.S. age group that favored socialism over capitalism.
Why would American millennials be attracted to socialism? When you think about exploding student debts, high rents, stagnant wages and job insecurity, why wouldn’t socialism surface in their minds as a potential solution to resolve these stresses, with systems to subsidize their every need?
Millennials Indicate a Change of Spirit in Society
Over the past three or so decades, there has been a significant shift in the tectonic plates underlying the human spirit. The Baby Boomer “American Dream” spirit evolved into a fundamentally different millennial one: while the Baby Boomer strove for tomorrow’s prosperity, the millennial settles for today’s convenience.
“The Baby Boomer strove for tomorrow’s prosperity, the Millennial settles for today’s convenience.”
Possessions we used to save up for and wait to buy are now available the moment after we think about them. Our desire to be publicly recognized and admired no longer needs to pass the approval of specialists or industry executives, but can be fulfilled instantly on social media. Being “smart” today isn’t about memorizing and recalling information, like we once incessantly trained and tested ourselves on. Our tech devices are “smart”, and our image is tied to how savvy we are about using all this tech to our advantage.
That’s the unique socio-economic paradox of the millennial generation: working long and hard is no longer to achieve luxuries, but necessities. Through technological developments, we’ve made the fruits of wealth, public admiration and knowledge readily available and struggle-free. And yet, today’s millennial struggle is to keep up with the costs of food, housing, education, healthcare and childcare.
A natural result of this process is for socialism to sprout up in the millennial mind: “Why do I have to break my neck just to make ends meet?
“I can tell them about a government that takes care of all their basic needs.. But what’s the other side of the story?”
Where Socialism Falls Short
As someone who experienced Russian “socialism” firsthand during my university years, I’m sure millennials would be interested in the first part of the story I can tell them, about a government that unloads the weight off people’s shoulders, takes care of all their basic needs, and leaves no one without affordable food, housing, education, transportation, healthcare and childcare.
But what’s the other side of the story?
Socialism doesn’t take into account the default state of human nature: the fundamental need to fulfill oneself before any other person. The fact is that people don’t wish to live their lives in order to benefit other people. Any surplus effort one makes within a socialist system sees no direct surplus reward, and even if we can see how everyone would be better off in a communal society, we wouldn’t be able to give up on our individual gain. Our very nature won’t let us.
Thus, people lack motivation to work for the benefit of the whole. The Soviet approach to this problem was to shove it down people’s throats and expect them to be thankful later. But then, even its enforcers relied on the same motivation, and the system imploded with unthinkable violence and suffering.
“Everyone agrees in theory with equality, altruism, mutual consideration, but these ideas can’t be forced, they need to gradually sink in and change us from within.”
How Millennials Can Push for a Better Society
It depends on people wanting to benefit other people. People have to be organically motivated to contribute to society, wishing to see everyone become happy and secure. This is not our default state and certainly not where society is now.
However, it does exist in potential. Everyone agrees in theory with ideas of equality, altruism, mutual consideration and kindness, but in practice, these ideas cannot be forced, they need to gradually sink into the human spirit and change us from within if we are to even consider a social structure that applies them.
If we begin to engage regularly in connection-enriching programs, we could cultivate our natural potential for human connection. I believe the most pragmatic initiation of this could start with our children. The concern for their future can be our motivation to work on a better society. By focusing on raising the next generation to be better socially connected, we adults would also be positively influenced by this process. We would thus create the beginnings of a supportive environment for connective ideals that could blossom into some practical and balanced changes in society.