Socialism in its myriad modern incarnations - Marxism, Fascism, National Socialism and Falangism - is an ancient viewpoint on individual rights and communal rights. The predicate upon which it has been typically described in our times - that it is based upon notions of fair distribution of wealth - is window dressing. Fairness is an inherently subjective term applied to objective situations: it is nonsensical, although it is emotive.
Feudalism was a form of Socialism, collecting wealth from producers by force, and redistributing that wealth according to subjective notions of fairness. Its concurrent and precedential political economies, whether the Aztec wars to acquire victims for human sacrifice, the affluent workman hired by Pharaoh to build grand funereal monuments, or the rationalization of skill and sweat conceived by the members of the Hanseatic League, were all bound by notions of economic moral judgments.
Clearly the viewpoints of each system encompassed some commonly held beliefs within the cultures in which they held sway. Rarely do true oddities blossom in history, and almost never do these oddities, whether Caligula or Asoka, endure beyond the death of its dreamer. Much more common are principles which roughly embrace generally held opinions like the virtues of tolerance among the Achmenians (leading to the first multicultural great empire), or the benefits of peace and uniformity which led to Pax Romana.
Mortal dangers typically shadowed these popular judgments. Until several modern inventions like the mechanical harvester and the seed drill, the steam powered locomotive and the asphalt road, antiseptic and antibiotics, the cotton gin and the mechanical loom, survival for most human beings was a combination of grueling labor and good luck.
Industry and technology removed the grim specter of death by dearth from political economy more than a century ago. As early as the Great Depression, farmers were producing much more food, fibers, and other agricultural products than could possibly be consumed. The same was true of all other goods and services which seriously impacted survival.
Although refinements in medicine, sanitation, storage of perishables, and other improvements have marginally influenced the ability of people to live rather than starve, one need only to look at the hearty health of Amish communities using eighteenth century technology to understand how little effort is required for food, shelter, and clothing in our current world.
Starvation in Third World nations is almost invariably the consequence of political decisions of native governments, subsidies to indigenous farmers, or conflict among nations and tribes. Growing enough food is not, and has not for some time, been the problem.
North Korea does not suffer hunger because its government lacks access to arable land, fertilizers, or quality agronomists - or because its farmers are lazy. The northern half of the Korean peninsula was the richest half before partition. North Koreans are hungry because their government prefers hungry subjects to free citizens.
Modern, open democracies have long had a problem with fat poor people. The Orwellian posters describing hunger in America, for example, fly in the face of everyday experience. Food is cheap, varied, abundant and obviously consumed by people who perform no work that benefits others. Immediate physical needs like clothing and shelter are also very easily met with a small fraction of the national wealth of a modern industrialized nation.
Why, then, does that branch of Socialism which prays upon the putative desperation of the poor still find willing ears? Part of the problem, of course, is that total equivalence in income and wealth will never exist. Older married couples will accumulate more wealth after lifetimes of relative frugality, even if every adult has precisely equal annual incomes. If this wealth is used to produce modest income from investment, or to defray ordinary living expenses (e.g. home ownership), then these couples will have more disposable income.
Jealously has been with us a long time, and money is a visible measurement of presumed inequality (particularly when the costs and benefits related to differences in money are often hidden or too personal for easy comprehension). Leisure time for the underemployed is not considered a benefit, long hours for a cardiovascular surgeon are not considered a cost, and patterns of efficiency are hard to detect without study.
Full bellied Socialism, however, requires more than hoary legends of greedy misers leeching the blood of the poor for their gold. Much of the poor understands that they have ceased to have any real economic value except as "consumers." Indeed, only a small percentage of those who work actually produce goods and services desired by these consumers. It is not hard to see an approaching age in which only five percent of the world's population, aided by information technology, genetically engineered plants and animals, and straightforward robotic factories could produce more actual, consumable goods and services than the world actually desires to consume.
Why then the complaining? Fat bellied Socialism, or the bitter grousing of those who are dissatisfied with their lives despite material plenty, is grounded in a psychological dependence upon others which may be natural and healthy in moderation, but when separated from factuality becomes an insatiable lust and a deep pathology.
People naturally need other people for many needs. The rapid ascent of man has taken our species, in a handful of generations, from the point at which social interdependence was truly essential for material well being, to the point in which social interdependence is simply another psychological need. Barn raising, midwifery, crop harvesting, and so forth are now done best by a few. Meals require no real preparation anymore, except as ceremony.
Understood as a need for companionship, fellowship, and entertainment, social activities are perfectly healthy and natural. That is not, of course, what the Young Pioneers or the Hitler Youth were about. Germany in 1939 had the highest standard of living in Europe. Had the National Socialists lowered the very high tax rates, reduced defense spending, and rejected economic autarky, the material well being of Germans could have risen as high as any sensible person could have desired with little effort and no racial jihad.
Germans then, like many people today, were crippled by an inability to define their contentment as something separate from others. All of us, to some extent, have three fountains of psychic refreshment.
We are each an artist writing or composing or sculpting our life; familiarity and appreciation of ourselves is a necessary and vital source of self satisfaction. This process typically involves audiences, but it need not. Emily Dickinson wrote for herself. Di Vinci hid much of his work from the world. Kafka wanted his manuscripts burnt after his death. Beethoven heard his music only in his mind, and he did not even hear the applause of the audiences. Each of these individuals found gratification in pursuing what he loved, regardless of what people thought.
We each also yearn for the metaphysical. Even passionate atheists like Hegel and Marx made gods of historical tendencies. The myths of cultures throughout the world have described the hunger for an explanation of why reality is as it is. Pythagoras and Newton were hardly religiously conventional in their times, but both used their vast mental gifts to seek the transcendent. Smart men and women spent lifetimes building cathedrals and temples, confident that they were somehow touching the beyond.
These two sources of psychic gratification may often intertwine and they need not intrude at all upon the lives of others. On the other hand "people who need people" as the 1960s song sang, require that others be engaged by whatever means necessary. Survival and procreation long insured that people cooperate with other people from necessity.
When bellies are full and birth rates are naturally declining, those who need this interaction more than others must invent reasons to compel interaction. Public education, which has much less to do with education than with socialization, is one example of this. The dull cascade of meetings and conferences, which Dilbert has immortalized within large organizations, is another means of forced involvement and insistent consensus.
The constant discovery of new, critical social issues is another way to introduce the interests of society - as defined and as owned by those craving attention - into the lives of others. Is it an exaggeration to say that if humanity established a permanent settlement on Mars which had no contact with Earth at all for two centuries, that some Fat Bellied Socialists upon landing on the surface of Nova Martia would immediately begin to speak of our common interests, needs, and duties?
Fat Bellied Socialism is the crudest form of existence, surviving without true material needs, and yet unable to rise above the bestial pecking order and Groupthink of dogs or apes. Drawing neither from the power of a creator (like Thomas Edison, Buckminster Fuller or Pythagoras), nor from the power of belief in a Creator (like Buber, Schweitzer or Averroes), these Fat Bellied Socialists try passionately to convince adults that they are really children.
As Socialism describes other systems as exploitations of the work of others, Fat Bellied Socialism is itself an exploitation of the human spirit of others, whether manifested in art, thought, or faith. Although Oceania and its Airstrip One did not provide, through the Ministry of Plenty, anything but shrinking rations, the decision by the Inner Party to keep the people poor was deliberate. Eric Blair may have been wrong on that one single point in 1984. Bradbury may have been more astute in pointing out the emptiness of material comfort without written words in Fahrenheit 451.
Both writers, however, clearly saw the horror of people who satisfy their sole human appetite through reducing men and women to herds of helpless, hopeless, livestock. Whether well fed or malnourished, these cattle owned by the overlords of Fat Bellied Socialism serve a dark purpose through the hunger of their shattered individuality.