Every now and then, in looking at the different models of community living out there, the idealist in me longingly looks at socialism and thinks, gee, wouldn't that be nice? Everyone helping each other out, working together in co-operation for the common good, and all those wonderful utopian ideals.
Then reality comes along and smacks the stupid out of me.
I need that every now and then.
Tonight was one of those head smacking nights.
As I've mentioned before, we now live in a housing co-op. This is a model that's somewhere in between the capitalist model of home ownership, leasing or renting, and the more communal co-housing model. In a co-op, every unit owns exactly the same number of shares, whether it's a 1 bedroom unit with a single dweller, or a 5 bedroom unit with 7 people living in it. One unit also represents one vote, so not only do we all own exactly the same percentage of the complex, but have the same level of power as anyone else.
One of the requirements is that everyone is expected to put in their share to the smooth running of things, to the best of our abilities. Obviously, someone in a wheelchair isn't going to be able to do garbage room duty as well as an able bodied person, but there's nothing preventing them from participating in or heading the various committees.
Ah, the committees. What joy!
Yeah, that's meant to be sarcasm.
Some of the committees are necessary. Maintenance. Finance. Membership. Others are more for fun. Social. Gardening. Newsletter. Most of these get together at least once a month. Then there are the board meetings every couple of weeks, quarterly membership meetings that we're all supposed to try to get to, and the annual membership meeting, where we get to vote in our various board members.
Now, in a perfect world, each of these committees would get together for their meetings, look at what needs to be done, make decisions on what they have enough information on, or find out what is needed and spend the time until the next meeting gathering that info so that decisions can be made. Everyone gives constructive input, co-operatively debate what needs debating, call a vote if needed, and once the decisions are made, the job gets done.
The problem, of course, is people.
Which illustrates for me why the socialist model, as wonderful as it might sound, simply cannot work on a large scale, such as in running a country. Because even on a scale as small as our own, it barely works.
In order for a democratic socialist model to work, everyone involved has to be motivated for the greater good. What always seems to happen is that there people, usually the same one or two, that just can't seem to do it. Even the simplest of things get stymied, blocked, argued over and lambasted.
I was just at a general meeting. Not an annual one, so not as many people were there. Still, these are the meetings where decisions involving the entire co-op are made, so long as the minimum number of people show up for any voting that needs to be done. The meeting moved along swimmingly until we got to the one piece of new business we had, which happened to involve a chunk of money. There is some needed renovation of a public, communal area in our complex, and it was suggested that some of the money gets invested there.
Cue the bickering.
Note, we weren't even trying to decide on what needed to be done, just that we agreed this area needed work beyond regular maintenance, and that we'd look into the details for future decision making.
On one side, there are the people who don't want any "spare" money going towards anything at all. They'd rather the money was rerouted to [insert preferred budgetary area here]. Then there are the ones who refuse to accept a specific process. Others refuse to accept details; in the case of a renovation, that might be the type of flooring, or paint colours. None of which was even part of this meeting.
Even after the president specifically stated that he didn't want things to get bogged down like another suggestion that had been made a while back - so bogged down, in fact, that even after everyone agreed it needed to be done, it hasn't been done and may well not be done at all anymore - someone went and suggested that...
Can you guess?
That's right... another committee get formed. A temporary one, formed just to deal with this one renovation.
Which would pretty much guarantee that this needed renovation of a communal space wouldn't happen for probably a year, if at all.
While a community situation like ours pretty much requires the use of committees, it is probably the most inefficient way to get things done that exists. Things that could be taken care of in a matter of days are instead taking months just for the decision making process. Not that everyone is happy when things do get accomplished, but that's just human nature. Were this a commercial property, owned by an individual or corporation, things can still get bogged down, but in the end, the owner(s) say, "this is what will be done," hire the appropriate people to do it, and it's done. The more people involved in the decision making process, the longer it takes, which is why decision by committee is so bloody frustrating. When the committee has to answer to an even larger number of equally invested interests, the result often feels like running into a brick wall at every turn. After hitting that wall head first time and again, it gets pretty hard to see straight. The same points get rehashed over and over, because there are always some people who are completely unwilling to accept that their opinion on the subject isn't the one everyone else agrees on. If they don't get their way one way, they try another, and if that doesn't work, they'll insist on various actions that drag things on and on and on.
It gets worse.
With some people, they're among those bitter, toxic people that hate everyone and everything. They just love poisoning the well, and nothing is ever right for them. With others, it might be the manifestation of psychological problems. How do you respond to someone who keeps repeating issues that have already been resolved because they literally can't remember what happened 5 minutes ago? Still others do it as a way to grasp power and gain relevance in their lives. Perhaps they're frustrated at work or in their home lives, so they latch onto the one thing in their world where they can actually exercise some control, so they do it, even if it causes distress to others. Well, to be honest, the more distress it causes to others, the better this particular group seems to like it.
In a nutshell, no matter how much socialist style co-operation would benefit a community, human nature will never allow it. The only way it could work smoothly is if all the members of a community reject or hold back their own self-interests in the interests of the group, and no one has any ambition beyond what the group desires. There certainly isn't any room for individualism, unless the individual's desires happen to be the same as the group's. Independent thinking, whether it's of the negative sort I've mentioned above, or more positive sorts that suggest improvements and changes, is not encouraged. Rocking the boat, even it it's to try to knock people into a bigger and better boat, is not tolerated.
In the end, what develops is apathy and complacency. Why bother showing up at all these meetings, when every good idea will just get shot down by the toxic avengers? Why take part in committee meetings, when the same people bring up the same issues, over and over and over and over and...
... yeah, we've been getting that one a lot.
There's little incentive to improve, and even less to innovate.
Now, as much as I find all this frustrating, we chose to live here. We came in here with our eyes open, knowing what our responsibilities and expectations were. So we put up with it, and we try to work with it as much as we can. If others don't pull their weight, we're not going to slack off, because what we do that benefits our community benefits us. This was a decision we made, and we will make it work to the best of our abilities.
On a grander scale, however, such as governing a country, that choice is gone. On a large scale, even if things are supposedly democratic, freedoms are not just lost, but taken, to benefit a larger community we did not necessarily elect to be part of. Such a system, instead of breeding co-operation, breeds resentment; apathy instead of activity; complacency instead of ambition. It becomes bloated and inefficient.
History has shown, time and again, that socialism as a system, no matter how well meaning and well intentioned the original co-ordinators were, devolve to become the most wasteful, the most environmentally harmful, and the least free of all societies. For all the problems capitalist based societies have, they still manage to be better, for the individual, the community and the environment.