Wednesday, June 13, 2012

16680--Looking Back at "Looking Backward"

Some sort of synchronicity could be blamed, I suppose, for the fact that I was refreshing myself on an old bit of reading material at the same time that the evening TV news ran a story about one of the subjects in the book I was checking out.

To be more specific, the news story was about people living longer and the resultant possibility of raising the retirement age to ease the amount of government payouts. The book was Looking Backward: 2000-1887, a utopian sci-fi novel by Edward Bellamy, focusing on an American protagonist who went to sleep in 1887 and awoke in 2000 to a socialist paradise. Granted, Bellamy shied away from the word “socialism”, preferring “nationalism” instead, but it’s the same either way. In Bellamy’s 2000, the retirement age was 45, people worked less instead of more, the nation’s wealth and productive output was owned by the government and shared equally among the populace. His ethical socialism presented a non-capitalist America, unburdened from debt by a population mobilized into a workforce that was considered an industrial army.

Such plans typically fall apart in practice when people decide they want to keep what they’ve worked for and want the power to decide what happens to it.  That sort of "selfish" attitude might be especially true if you're someone who also produces genuinely special output instead of performing unskilled labor that virtually anyone could do.  Likewise, you might start to feel disinclined to work a fifty-hour week if the determination was made that you were only entitled to thirty hours of credit.  Like it or not, Bellamy’s book was wildly popular in its time, spawning socio-political movements and communes of 19th century hippies (there's an image).  More and more, it seems we’re heading that way.  By that, I mean, it seems we’re a society steering toward socializing.

How close do you think we are to writing off capitalism?  Can we get everyone working who’s capable? Will providing our needs be enough? How will we take care of our wants? Would everyone having what they need be enough to eradicate most crime? You’ll never be rich or live in luxury, but you won’t be homeless or starving. And you’d have to give up some rights, but you can still…have whatever rights you’re told you can have. Should we keep heading that way or fight to hold on to the fading dream we had?  By definition, though, it's got to be insane to think we could even get close to let alone maintain a utopia, right?

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