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I love this article.As a high-school socialist (and missionary in the former USSR), a college skeptical leftist, a Peace Corps volunteer in Russia, an aid worker, and finally a parent in the most socialist of all institutions: the US Army (a spouse), my opinions of capitalism and communism have changed throughout the years.What do I teach my children?I tell them that when we are kind to one another and trust one another, things work, and when we don't, things fall apart.No system is a substitute for human kindness and virtue.
Beautiful, well-written, and speaks of the hypocracy we all struggle with. I want justice, too. But damn I like my warm house/bed/life. We keep our house (too) cool in the winer (we live in Minnesota), and every time I get sick of being COLD in my own home, I go to the thermostat and then I pause. Even as I'm raising the temp, I feel guilty, sick to my stomach. As if going from 68 to 70 is really effecting ANYTHING. But then again, maybe it is?It's hard, being born middle class in this country, never really being hungry or suffering any creature comfort a day in our lives to give up this life we know... And by ME giving it up, it doesn't insure that SHE (across the globe) will get MORE, ya know? It's so sad to think about, so overwhelming, so complex. Anyway, again, great post Catherine. Thank you for speaking, for giving me a voice too.
Catherine, I love your writing, and this piece particularly struck home for me. (Especially the part about being conflicted about admitting you send your kids to private school - don't get me started!) I share your sense of unease and hypocrisy with the easy comfort of my middle class American life. The only solution, if you can call it that, which I have come up with is to practice daily gratitude and try to improve the world no matter how inadequate my efforts seem.
What a great article! I wish you were my neighbor so we can talk about these exact same issues that trouble me as well.
I love what Anonymous said - "no system is a substitute for human kindness and virtue." My main problem with socialism is that it doesn't make us better people if we only share because we are forced to. I want my kids to learn to help others because it it the right thing to do, not because the government has mandated it.
Living in ex-communist (ie. East) Germany, we are confronted by the remnants of communism every day. It didn't work. The principle is great. The poor were really well cared-for (and long for the old times). But the country? Really run-down. Very many buildings, streets, street lighting, etc in woeful condition, even 20 years on. There was near-100% employment, but a world away from efficient - pointless jobs were invented to keep people busy. Low crime, due to oppressive (and expensive) over-policing. Absolute lack of intellectual or political freedom. The population was kept ignorant; you were only allowed to study if you could prove that your family were good party followers, or if not, at least that they themselves were NOT educated. University research was so restricted as to be irrelevant, students only taught what was considered politically appropriate. And the borders had to be closed, not to keep the capitalists out, but to stop the communist population from escaping. So no, from here I would say - don't wish for or promote communism, utopic as it sounds! Charitable capitalism has got to be a better bet.And private school - we are just having to make that choice. The local school is poor. The private one is good. Our son is bright but bilingual, he struggles sometimes with German. What do we owe to him?
I LOVE this piece. Catherine Newman is a genius, as always. I've read most all of her work that I know about and it is always so right on!!
I am struggling with some of the same questions... it's so reassuring to read your thoughts on it. I think it's very hard to escape a certain amount of hypocrisy, or doubleness, because it's all so complicated, and we don't know enough, really. There is so much more I could say, but if I go on I'll never stop.
I love you, Catherine! Sometimes I feel like you've crawled into my brain. I wish I could just hand out copies of some of your essays instead of trying- and failing- to explain my heart to people yet again.
Angela's comment was very insightful. A professor at a school tried an experiment. At the end of the first grading period, the class average was a high B. So he told the class that at the next grading period, he would give everyone the class average grade. No matter how they scored on their papers or tests, they would receive the class average as their grade. At the end of that grading period, the class average was a D.Just more food for thought.
Great article, Catherine. A little tangent: I'm really fascinated by the private-public school debate. Curious to know how one decides. Catherine, do you have more to share about this subject? We're in a really good district so I scratch my head why people spend 20k to send their kids to private. Then again I sometimes feel guilty living in such a nice, well-funded town while other cities (families) struggle. It would be interesting to know more; maybe subject for another essay?
But socialism is the middle ground and kids who grow up in those environments DO have different perspectives on life...such as the idea that healthcare is a right not a privilege...it's one reason I left the US and moved to a socialist country...to allow my child to develop different ideals. Ideals that the environment/culture DOES support. Now I don't have to fight the system.
catherine-- nice piece. we're in the same boat about private school. and the only conversation one has about the issue where i live is along the lines of "we want what's best for our kids". i, on the other hand, never imagined that my children would go to private school and now that they are, my conflicts about the issue haven't dissipated one bit.i'm always surprised that private school families seems to think that private schools are simply better and will produce a better person. it's so much more complicated than that and i was gratified to see you seem to be struggling with the same issue.
i appreciate this article also. it is very difficult to try to live and practice a certain style of compassion in this world. My 4 year old was playing baby Jesus, with a doll on a pillow, and my husband asked "who was Jesus?" and she responded "the guy who died". it's hard not confuse Harry Potter, Merlin and Yahweh right now. we are about to decide whether we have the hutspa (sp?) to homeschool or if we need the structure and disipline of some school. when we interact with kids that have been in daycare or school of any kind, she usually learns something bad, how to lie, to use "i hate you" as a weapon, how to cover (stand up for the look out is a good lesson, sometimes) but it has put us more onto homeschool for the "institutional" education we don't want our 4 yr old to learn yet.
The defect of equality is that we only desire it with our superiors. - Henry BecqueIf you transported the starving family or the Cuban family to an environment where they could have the choice to practice the socialist model or the "pinata" style of capitalism, you at best would find them wrestling with the same challenges you detail. My toddler instinctively wants more and more not just because I reinforce it but because he wants it.A whole other topic is whether the world could sustainably support everyone attaining the same quality of life as first-world countries. Most articles I read on that topic say "no", even with technological advances. A major block is the fact that only a small percentage of the world's water is not salinated, and water is an essential ingredient to our quality of life.
Yes! I struggle with living in a hyper-consumer based culture and raising children. I don't want my children to feel guilty for wanting things, and yet I feel strongly that material possessions should rank lower on the list than other humans, or the natural world for that matter. A few years ago I gave away my dryer b/c of all the electricity it used (and because my husband nagged me about it incessantly), and I still miss the convenience of drying the clothes quickly, and the soft warm feeling of the cotton. Growing up in this culture it is truly a process to transcend our yearning for conveniences and creature comforts, and I am not totally there yet. Yet, there must be a better, more equitable way to live. Thanks for your piece.
I am from the former USSR and will never return. From what I can see, welfare and many other programs are examples of socialism right here in the US and they don't appear to be sending the right message. The stream of people coming from my former eastern block region is still greater than those returning to all other regions combined. Why? Now that's answer you should probe rather than some upper middle class Utopian ideal.
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