Socialism to the literary skeptic means 1984 (where Ingsoc, shorthand for English Socialism, rules with an iron fist for the Party’s good pleasure), or Harrison Bergeron (where everyone is pulled down to the lowest common denominator so that finally everyone is equal). To the redneck, it means not being able to call any land his own*. To George Orwell, it meant “liberty and justice” — provided, of course, that it wasn’t perverted like every other political philosophy in the world. To Wired magazine, it means the internet — open-sourced and crowdsourced forums. “When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it’s not unreasonable to call that socialism.” –Wired, “the New Socialism,” Kevin Kelly, June 2009.
You are reading this free of charge as I offered it free of charge. See? Socialism. You don’t even see any ads here.
Still, community-driven projects do not a commune make. Working towards a common goal and sharing the products results in church potlucks, Sorority sister clothes swaps, Amish barns, and strings of Constitutionalist pro se legal cases as well as hippie Co-ops. Community is not owned by the socialist. Community has always existed. One could even argue that Capitalism is a communal arrangement, since it is based on services within a community. It’s supposed to be “fair” in that if your service is worthless, or you’d rather lie in bed all day, you’re penalized by the community. Since it doesn’t quite work out that way, we have endless checks and balances, from tort law to Goodwill to unemployment.
The irony is that George Orwell blamed cheap luxuries for the indulgent state of the 20 million underfed Englishmen at the time — the cheap sweets, cheap clothes, cheap entertainment, and the penny on the lottery kept the coal miners and those on the dole sufficiently happy that they wouldn’t complain about the fact that their two-room houses were freezing and full of bugs, that they had little sanitation, that their nutrition was atrocious, and that they were wiling their lives away doing next to nothing.
Cheap luxuries are the opiates of the masses, not religion. And what cheaper luxury is there than the internet? Even if you can’t afford a second-hand laptop and some pilfered wifi, there’s always the public library. iPhones aren’t all that pricey, either — the Wall Street Journal recently had an article about a homeless man who kept up with everything via his vital daily social networking feeds.
You didn’t need a home or anything. You just need Facebook. This “new socialism” may prevent the old socialism in more ways than one (Or you could just call it bread and circuses, with the clever programmer replacing the clever chariot-racer. If Al Gore invented the internet, it was a smart political move).
*Currently, he calls even land mortgaged over its actual value his own. This is the great benefit of Equal Opportunity Capitalism, which is not the same thing as Socialism.