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Socialism and Spirituality

Any study of general human history would be incomplete without the perspective of Karl Marx. Although Hegel informs Marx’s philosophy, Marx looked at history in a new way; it is as if he lifted a veil in the study of human conditioning – though there are more to be removed. Marxism as an attempt at human spirituality in society is given insufficient attention.

Those who have read God Without Religion come to understand that the centralization of social power is the primary cause of human divisiveness, or the failure of human beings to expand their sense of identity to include all other human beings. This expansion of the sense of self, which is what spirituality is at bottom, is contradicted by social systems thriving on the opposition of narrow socioeconomic interest groups.

So much for the feeble attempts of modern “spirituality” to distance itself from politics!

“The prime cause of all disorders that visit society, of the oppression of the citizens, and of the decay of nations lies in the single and hierarchical centralization of authority,” wrote Pierre Joseph Proudhon in 1865. Few appreciate that spiritual efforts toward an unconditioned expansive self are excessively thwarted when conditions forcefully narrow the identity, foster vulnerability of the self, and constrain activity to survival requirements.

Taking this definition of spirituality into account, centralized power thrives on precisely unspiritual populations.

It would be hasty to assume that Marxism represents the abolishment of centralized power. Buber wrote, “In both cases (Marx and Lenin) the decentralist element of restructure is displaced by the centralist element of revolutionary politics; in other words, there is the tendency to perpetuate centralist revolutionary politics at the cost of the decentralist needs of a nascent socialist community.” Even if communism arises from the ashes of capitalism, the forming society might precisely rely upon the very same popular habit of distancing social power toward a centralizing entity that characterized the declining capitalism society.

How can humans, hardwired to distance power toward centralizing figures, ever hope to thrive in a socialist environment when divisive conditioning does not merely determine our direction but rather activate our inner reptilian ancestry?

We are predisposed toward hierarchy as shown by our religious bent, but we are also prone toward spiritual aspirations seeking to short-circuit narrowing tendencies. The spiritually expansive potential of the human heart is critical to the success of down-up decentralized socialist systems. Put another way, without a larger human identity nurtured through the practice of spiritual disciplines, up-down power structures will persist, while being called different things throughout history in reflection of humanity’s mystification of its own hierarchical institutions of power.

Marx looked at history and saw how class struggles informed religious expression, the family structure, morality, and host other things. He wrote that the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Most of us take for granted that the consequences of class struggle have always been with us and will always be here; our ideas of God, ethics, and law are necessarily and directly informed by material concerns. After forming in the crucible of class material struggle, social habits and systems are codified and sanctified by local authorities in further accordance with their ambitions.

But seeing history in terms of class struggle is slightly superficial, since the majority willingly distances power toward the elite, and it is not as if the elite has to manufacture too much religious “opium” to numb the masses or too much nationalistic “speed” to rile them. The drive toward numbness and zealotry are the drives of the narrow self and it gladly feeds itself – as opposed to being forcefully spoon-fed – so long as these drugs are made available. Further, the elite are too made of humans whose power has been distanced toward excessive material concerns. The minority in power and the powerless majority are both in the chains of the narrow self.

"The theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of private property." This principle is not merely idealistic; it is the natural response to what Marx saw as the property-medium through which power is routinely centralized. But as expected a response as it is, it is not the proper one. Instead of accepting the conversion of material wealth into power and then addressing materialism, it is simpler and more effective to address the very conversion. The corporate hold on wealth must be undermined, but it will not be undermined for very long so long as the general agreement regarding the equivocation of materials and power is accepted. Our very conventions – reflections of our own sense of material identity – must go.

Self-imposed dogmas of the past have been used to justify slavery and serfdom. Religious and political authorities have ever upheld the sanctity of the family through lip service while at the same time creating the conditions and fostering ideologies that tear it apart. We mold our institutions and political parties into so many gods, overshadowing our own expansive potential. These gods of authoritarianism only have domination in mind.

While we are busy fighting for a higher minimum wage, Marx was writing against the wage system altogether over a century ago. But in accordance with his far reaching vision, both backward and forward, he also went to extremes. "Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking [blood] from living labor." Capital is not dead labor, but rather stored labor that is magnified through tax codes, investment, and commerce. The rules have been slanted so that living labor feeds stored labor, and thus enlarging it instead of creating wealth for the laborer, but it would live even were it unable to feed off living labor. It would live by providing security and free time for the laborer and his or her family. So in effect, capitalism limits the amount of human free time, which eventually would be dedicated to culture, education, spiritual expansion, and human interaction – all the things that would undercut capitalism.

Allowing the use of wealth in order to generate more wealth is the source of much suffering and ignorance. Our entire economic system is based upon the use of wealth as a magnet to attract more wealth, thus stripping wealth from the laborer in the form of hours life and breath. It really comes down to time – a timocracy as the Greeks called it -- wherein those a the top of the pyramid have the most free-time and use that time to please senses with objects out of common reach.

Bakunin wrote, "The subordination of labor to capital is the source of all slavery: political, moral, material." Marx and Bakunin agreed that revolution begins with the annihilation of all systems in existence; there is no political, religious, or economic solution. But these systems are wholly agreed upon. Disagreement and disengagement begins in the self. The revolution of shifting self-awareness so that we no longer allow our minds to be the fertile gardens where the seeds of material acquisitiveness take root is the first step.

Before taking this step, we are already beset with obstacles. Capitalism provides escapes dulling the insurrectionary edge in religion, legal and illegal inebriating drugs, and entertainment. Of course, they are close kin reflecting each other. Even as a Prozac people avoid feeling what might otherwise be natural human responses to conditions causing vulnerability, loneliness, and insecurity, the churchgoer willingly relinquished reason in the hope of drowning pains in the numbing ocean of faith in a perfect afterlife.

Babies born into capitalistic societies are trained to think and react like consumers. They are taught that you don't get something for nothing, but that if you are lucky enough to get something free, to take it and run. You are taught that happiness is won by emulating those that have money, possessions, and fame. You are not taught how to find happiness from principles of living and from the service you provide. If you’ve learned this, you are the exception, not the rule.

We are not conditioned to be happy in down-up socialistic societies nor are we generally capable of functioning properly in them. Our culture and values maintain within us the consumerist and materialistic restlessness that capitalism feeds off of – the restlessness that is precisely the death of socialism. It is for this reason that the change from capitalism to socialism will largely be felt most by the generation that was born into capitalism but decided to disengage from it and cease to agree to the automatic conversion of material wealth into power.

Ultimately, capitalism only functions as a social system when the citizens are taught capitalistic ideals. Likewise, socialism will only operate properly for those who are wedded in principle and through indoctrination to socialistic ideals. Those who say that human nature is not in keeping with the values that socialism expects may be making the mistake of judging human nature by the propensities that human beings generally exhibit when they are raised in consumer-based economies. They then erroneously reason that if human beings act a certain way in a capitalistic environment, they will act that way in any environment. This is not necessarily the case.

Socialism, so long as it is of the decentralized variety, is the natural expression of spiritual self-expansion; it does not foster the greed that the money monopoly creates. Gandhi wrote: "Let us study our Eastern institutions. We shall evolve a truer Socialism and a truer Communism than the world has yet dreamed of. It is surely wrong to presume that Western Socialism or Communism is the last word on the question of mass poverty."

Yet so many so-called progressives feel that spirituality and politics don't go together. Giving no attention to the social issues around us constitutes a grave irresponsibility – one that does not work in socialism wherein in social responsibility go hand in hand with decentralized self-rule. Though one must work with a larger identity that cares not for the fruits of labor as they relate to one’s narrow person, ignoring politics means to practically lose power, making spiritual striving all the more difficult as capital increases in power and strips the apolitical spiritual seeker of more and more free-time. If one wants to have time to look within, one must defend it from those who would take it and build upon it with positive social activism.

Mahatma Gandhi would have never existed if he followed a degenerate spirituality of nonintervention. Nonviolence is not a negative, but a positive attitude that does not accept the possibility of neutral positions. Those who identify with others cannot but want to participate in social reforms that might promise better lives for everyone.

The purpose of a government with spirituality in mind is not so much to provide a rule but to provide order. It protects boundaries against hostile aggressors and protects the rights of the citizen from any infringement. When taken over by the money monopoly, it provides mostly rule and little order. It will look upon its activities as means to make money for contributors instead of providing a service to the people whose money it centralizes.

It is the responsibility of each and every citizen to oppose government that represents wealth instead of labor. Denying the power of wealth and affirming the power of labor in concrete ways that cease to distance power toward a centralized authority will accomplish effective political opposition.

Opposition to political centralization also means opposition to religious centralization. Many think that politics and religion don’t mix when in fact history has shown that religion and politics mix far too well together. In their present forms, they are inseparable. Any change in one will be reflected in a change in the other; also, any change in one will be resisted by the other.

Exempting religion from tax was believed at one time to help foster ethics in society. Data conclusively shows that organized religions do not foster ethical, law-abiding behavior, and in fact contributes to the opposite. No evidence exists, for good reason, to substantiate the claim that law-abiding people would not be so without religion, and yet many criminals use religion as a justification while religious instruction in prisons increases recidivism.

On a matter of principle, John Milton (1608 1674) wrote: "Forced consecrations out of another man's estate are no better than forced vows, hateful to God, 'who loves a cheerful giver;' but much more hateful wrung out of men's purses to maintain a disapproved ministry against their conscience." Why should public monies be used for sectarian brainwashing? Since we do not tax sectarian churches to support secular organizations, why should secular businesses and citizens be taxed to support a sectarian church in which they do not believe? Spirituality is supposedly free, but the government must apparently contribute billions of dollars every year to compensate for the tens of billions of dollars of untaxed church property.

Religion is lucrative business, but a tax-free religion is expensive to every taxpayer. Since the State cannot establish a state church, it stands to reason that it cannot subsidize any sectarian religious organization through tax exemption. If religions were treated like any other business, the system of free enterprise would determine which ones survived and which ones went bankrupt. If a religion didn't satisfy its clients, then those clients would seek another religion. If clients remained satisfied, then the church would thrive.

Tradition as a quantitative force is neutral; it is neither good nor bad. Each tradition must be qualitatively measured in terms of its use in fostering the expansion of the human sense of self. Blindly accepting the traditions of the past without properly analyzing and evaluating them in relation to present social needs is the tendency of the narrow self.

Poverty has practically become a human tradition, but is not a given; it is as artificial as exorbitant wealth and the systems that create both. Our lives are traditionally noisy, cramped, restless, polluted, violently aggressive and without any self-sustainable autonomy. Our educational tradition is used as a political tool to spread the values of the affluent society. Our traditions have lost touch with the natural environment, creating for ourselves an eyesore in which to live, but we yet resist going back to the land. Politicians are traditionally pawns of capitalists and corporate heads while the masses are traditionally suppressed through propaganda.

The quality of our lives depends on a well-functioning society and our social systems do not induce in us a sense of trust. On the contrary, they incite suspicion, insecurity, and vulnerability. Many today feel that our society, the very thing on which our survival depends, is a menace and a threat to our survival. We must get the better of the system to better ourselves, so they feel, or else our dehumanizing society will get the better of us.

Bernard Shaw wrote, "The world scraps its old steam engines and dynamos but not its old prejudices, its old moralities, its old religions, and its old political constitution." The more we scrap our old technology for new and more efficient applications of science, the more necessary an overhauling of our social system and the traditions of the past becomes; more powerful technologies are better handled by farther-seeing vision.

Clearly, scrapping the old ideas of self, and the self-imposed limits of the possible, is the first priority.