We Need New Terms: Get Rid of “Capitalism,” “Socialism,” & “Communism,” Part II

(Read Part I here.)

Concepts don’t arise out of nothing. Rather, they are the result of the human quest to make sense out of our experience. They bubble up from the mind’s complex process of sorting, combining, re-configuring, and assigning meaning to the massive data set that is our individual and collective sensory input.

Each new concept is a response to new conditions and is based upon certain underlying assumptions about the nature of reality upon which are built the new idea. Capitalism, socialism, and communism (CSC) were conceptual responses to the new-found liberation from the Imperial structures of monarchy and the Church that appeared out of the Enlightenment.

Under the feudal systems of Europe, everything was owned by the King and controlled by the network of titled nobility. This social system was distributed widely throughout the world for much of human history. Any society that was not functioning within a simple tribal system of organization generally developed some type of feudal society. Under feudalism, freedom, in a social and economic sense, is almost completely unknown. Your life is determined by birth, and all economic choices are highly regulated by the royal class.

CSC were the new ideas generated by the potential for a newfound freedom, the freedom to determine one’s economic destiny. Of course, originally, such freedom was still highly limited within society, to the men who were of a certain class, and later, race. However, over the past 250 years, the notion of freedom and equity has expanded to include an ever-greater percentage of the population, and much of the conflict between the three pillars of CSC is a conflict over who is free to do what to whom in the economic and social sphere.

Much of the conflict between the pillars of “Capitalism,” “Socialism,” and “Communism” is a conflict over who is free to do what to whom in the economic and social sphere.

Yet despite this desire for freedom, and in spite of the expansion of the groups who are allowed to freely participate in society, something is still wrong. Are the oligarchs of today that much different from the feudal lords of the 13th century? Are the boundary limitations of nation states so much different from the boundaries of the old fiefdoms? Did socialism and communism really provide a better, more equitable life for those in the Soviet Union or, now, in Communist China? These are but a few of the questions that have moved me to search for new terms, new concepts, and they bring me to the central underlying assumption for these new terms: the problems that arise in human societies are not the result of using the “wrong” system; the problems start with the human beings themselves.

In looking at human systems of organization, by whatever name, it’s clear that any system can sometimes work well, and sometimes work poorly. I’ve never known anyone who strongly objects to a private company with positive communication, a living wage, and healthy working conditions, one that provides meaningful work for those it employs. And millions of people every year love going to our national parks, pieces of land held in common by the government for the enjoyment of all. On the other hand, companies that exploit their workers and their communities are generally despised, as are mindless government bureaucrats who appear to create rules and problems for their own sake and out of a desire to control others. Even within spiritual community structures, another method of human organization, there are times when the system works well for the good of all and there are times when they are abusive and degrading.

Noticing this pattern—that all systems can work well or poorly—I come to my first assumption in the creation of new terms for social construction: concepts that name social systems must address the nature of the human being as a key component to either a just/good or unjust/bad system.

A second assumption that I make in developing my new terms is that the world is a living whole that is fundamentally indivisible. However, at the same time, we humans need and use boundaries to help us organize life and society. These two truths exist in tension and so any construction of a social understanding must account for them, but also must always favor the indivisible whole as being more important, and permanent, than the arbitrary, and temporary, human boundaries.

Centering these two key assumptions—the central importance of both the human condition and the wholeness of nature—I now turn to a description of my new concepts in Part III.

Reality Changing Observations:

1. What are some systems that you have witnessed work well in some companies/nations/settings but poorly in others? Why the difference in outcomes?

2. What is your reactions to the two assumptions described above?

3. In what ways is our current lifestyle similar to the feudal system our ancestors lived in hundreds of years ago?

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