Competition is something that society seems to the thrive on. We have our favorite sports teams. We have our favorite drinks and favorite movies. Sometimes if someone else doesn't like what we like, we get mad, disillusioned. Somehow we think the world was created for us and around us. Competition seems so entrenched in the spirit of the world that we would rather be Cain and Abel or the Tortoise and the Hare than a humanity that desires to know one another. We are so separated from each other that we can't acknowledge the person that passes by us on the street. It's as if we have forgotten to say "Hello!"
But it wasn't always like this, nor does it have to remain so.
There is evidence that prehistoric humans were more nomadic as hunter-gatherer peoples and more consumerist as settled peoples. Now, the way we make sense of our existential angst is by filling it with things. Capitalism has become one such thing. As neo-settlers, we think that we need to either consume or capitalize to be successful. It's as if we have brainwashed ourselves and society that we must take to gain, rather than simply exist and have more concern for the person next to us.
We live in a society embedded with the philosophy that what is mine is mine to protect at all costs. This philosophy endorses the kind of world where we can justify war in the name of entitlement or oil, where our individuality can only find respite in the direct rejection of what we don't understand. We willingly participate in social lethargy, where we choose our own self-preservation over acknowledging the person next to us as we brush past them on the street. I think that what we have to realize is that what we have come to believe and deem as ours was never ours.
Paul was an ancient follower of Christ who had a revolutionary vision for society. He spoke to a society riddled by injustice, caste systems, poverty, gender separation and many other ills that mirrored our society now. He offered to his readers another way to see how we should interact with one another, saying, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). This radical new paradigm did not just exist for his community; it exists for our society. It doesn't have to endorse a hyper-politically correct view of equality, but one where we can come together and believe in the principles that Christ believed in: love, acceptance, grace, shalom, counter-cultural subversion, economic equality. These are just a few things he represents. But these principles of Christ aren't exclusive; they aren't part of a special club that you have to join. They exist in each and every human, and we are capable of living them out together.
Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan posited what he called the Mirror Stage, which is the realization that all of us are born into a world already constituted for us. When we enter into the world, there is already a world that was pre-existent, framed, and formed by those before us. When we participate in our familial dynamics, there are already beliefs, ethics and ideas set in place by the time we draw our first breath.
We enter into a world of borrowed beliefs. We come into this world already socialist without even knowing it.
When I use the word socialism, I am not speaking of the perversion of Karl Marx's philosophy as it has been abused in the past, but of the need of to begin endorsing a diversified global community that seeks to make the world a better place through a neo-communal way of living -- a world where we say what we mean, where what is mine is truly yours. It's a newer, hipper version of the socialism in which the message of Jesus seems so steeped.
The socialism that philosopher Slavoj Zizek speaks of seems quite close to the heartbeat of Jesus. Jesus seemed to care for the poor so much that he might have lived like one by choice. He associated himself with the socially outcast; he broke cultural laws to help others; he spoke of a society where everyone cared for the other, where to love one's neighbour was to love oneself, where to love one's enemies was the mark of a radically hospitable person. I could go on, but this strand of revolutionary love isn't just in Christianity; it's across all of the major religions.
Why? Because we believe it can happen -- not one day, but now.
In fact, to see socialism as a good thing, we need to move away from the hauntological interplay so prevalent in our society. We seem to look to the past to inform us how to be now, but what of the future? What if we begin being informed by the future rather than by those before us? What would that look like? This new kind of socialism sees the beauty in diversity and in plurality. It embraces the outsider as insider. It endorses creativity and sustainability as the fuel that drives the global community toward the future that awaits us.
What about our future? What does that look like? I am sure that Jesus has something to offer, just as any other great religious leader does. One of the things Jesus might have said was that we should love our neighbours. The language behind this speaks of a self-sacrificial spirit bent toward the betterment of society. If we love the person next to us, then we are committed to that person's betterment. We are committed to that person being our primary concern in relationship to ourselves.
I understand that this philosophy might not sit well or even be all too comfortable. It even makes me feel uncomfortable as I write this. But these feelings we feel are chafing against the very lie that we should look out for Number One. This philosophy is counter to the fabric of a society that is at the moment. This doesn't mean that in such a society there are not people who are doing bad things or participating in selfish acts, but it does mean that if we are people who are concerned about the betterment of our society, then we must begin asking hard questions. Jesus also used a common phrase during his time: he called himself the Son of Man, which in Aramaic could possibly mean "I," "anyone," or "someone."
It is interesting that Jesus used an ambiguous title that was used by others to speak of their humanity. In fact, the ambiguity and commonality of such a phrase hints at the possibility that Christ was attempting to inspire those around him to see that what they were looking for already existed within them, that "I" is "anyone," that "anyone" is "someone," and that "someone" is "I." Couched in the midst of these words is the idea that when I embrace anyone, I am embracing myself (I), and that when I embrace anyone, I am making that person someone.
We as the world have been fighting against each other for way too long. Maybe it's time that we begin dreaming together of how we can work together in our diversity and make the world a better place, one where we stop fighting because of our beliefs and embrace our beliefs as a way towards peace, where we begin working together to stop hunger rather than competing for awards on who is giving more money to this cause. When we compete against one another, we are essentially agreeing that all that matters is the proverbial blue ribbon on our chest and not the cause.
The world can no longer afford people who speak of love, self-sacrifice, compassion and do everything in their power to deny those things to people who don't believe the same as they do.
Maybe we can embrace a new kind of post-structural, post-Marxian socialism, one that sees humanity as something worth saving and sees it as our responsibility to defend the case of the widow, the poor and the outcast. When we do this, we are believing the world can be better. We are actively involved in the process of healing the world. We can no longer afford to talk about love and at the same time deny it through how we treat one another. Some might say that this is an idealistic notion, but if that is the case, then why is the majority of religious doctrine centered around the idea that compassion is possible? Why do we remember and venerate people like Mother Teresa, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama or Gandhi? Because we believe that compassionate is possible. We believe that war, poverty, hatred, hunger, exclusion, ignorance, intolerance, racism, and so many more things don't have to have the last word, that love can have the last word.
What do we do now? We can begin looking for ways to embrace diversity and plurality. When we create things, we can think holistically; governments need to look out for the whole of society, not for those who pay them. We can realize that our food is their food, that "we" and "they" need not exist, that we are all displaced, that to participate in a better world means to participate in a better humanity.
Click here to sign a petition commit to create and participate in one selfless act at least once a week, either to a stranger or someone you know. Feed the poor, help someone cross the street, stay in and babysit, help stop the water crisis in Africa, be creative, and remember that even if you don't experience results, it doesn't mean that there isn't a change! After you sign it, go over to my blog and share your stories there.