Tuesday, August 2, 2011

one teaspoon each collectivism and autonomy, two tablespoons hypocrisy

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them wholeheartedly — but not enough to take them back.

The issue:  She made a collectivist offer. An offer to share. From subscriptions to memberships. Things like Costco. Things like the New York Times. Stuff like that. It wasn't altruism nor was it generosity.  We'd each be covering one thing or another. Just an instance of sharing. Which would bring down costs for both of us. An act of pure economic rationality, especially in a time of dearth.

And I said no.

I didn't just say no.  I said no emphatically. And I meant it. You can tell because I used italics here.

Partly I was just ashamed that it wasn't I who had come up with the idea in the first place. God forbid someone else should have a collectivist bone in her body. I guess I'm very competitive about my collectivism.

Partly it was that she's currently in the process of dissolving a collectivist arrangement that didn't work out.  Ach.  Been there, done that. Don't want to do that again.

Partly it was a scream (albeit fairly silent) of freak-out-ishness of the potential loss of my own hard won autonomy.

What a bleeping hypocrite!

I talk a good talk. About the joys and power of collective action. But I don't so much as ask for another person's help when I need it.  Ammendment: I didn't used to.  Now I do recognize that yes, every once in a long while I need to ask for help with stuff. Sometimes.  It's aging season, for example, and I'm not willing to risk the likelihood of further damage to my wrecked lower spine by schlepping and lifting the heavy stuff anymore. Nor will I offer to help with the schlepping and hauling like I used to. On the other hand — I never used to ask for help. And now I do. And hate every minute of it.

But asking for help isn't collectivism.  Collectivism is about union. Sharing tools, land, water, seed, and labor—essential basics—collective production.  Growing enough for others to take their basketful, knowing that you're welcome to do the same—collective distribution.  Interdependence. Emphasizing collective need over that of the individual.  The joy of sharing.

But my collectivist ideology and my autonomous constitution are at war with each other.  I love the idea of working together, sharing expenses, collaborative writing, sharing authorship, seed, soil, and all that.  And I do these things well. On the other hand, basically I wish I could do everything myself.

And so I had a little hissy fit. Without explaining anything.  Without understanding it myself.

I want it. Collectivism, I mean.

And right now it scares the shit out of me.  So why is that?

I think it's not the fear of collectivizing per se that's done me in.  I think it's the fear that if I re-collectivize that it'll be harder than ever to dismantle it when its time is over. It's the idea that I have to trust someone. That she'll keep her side of the bargain (whatever that bargain is). The fear that I'll lose the knowledge or ability to fend for myself.

Autonomy is a crock.

There's really no such thing.  Not yet, anyway.  Although it seems that Congress would have us go more and more in that direction.  Dismantle the U.S. Post Office. Public education. Social Security. Medicare. Less government, more privatization. But we (I speak collectively here realizing that this 'we' doesn't include 'me' at all) don't want to pay for collective benefits. But we do seem to all want the particular benefits that we ourselves enjoy.  Let's just support the military some say. Or how 'bout education?

So. This isn't just about me and my health insurance or Costco or Netflix membership. It's a national issue, and we're not united about it. I guess that's the point, isn't it?

For what are we willing to take collective responsibility, and for what do we stand alone?

L. H. Morgan saw the rise of civilization as the movement away from collectivism in favor of greater and greater autonomy and competition.  Darwin, on the other hand, saw competition as the primitive root leading to the 'higher' animal. 'From the war of nature, the higher animal directly follows...' he said.  Kropotkin tried to tone him down with the benefits of Mutual Aid, but never got a response from the great man.  It's still in print, but clearly not as popular as Darwin's war of nature bit.

But is any of this going to help me with my little conundrum? What am I really scared of right now? That once we're each dependent on each other that the whole thing will fall apart? That it leads to a slippery slope of elder care (or equivalent) of the till-death-do-us-part variety? Am I scared that I might like it? That I might end up with the loopy lab? That she might end up with the house?  Wait, wait! That's not collectivism—that's marriage.

So why is the American public so gung-ho about the Defense of Marriage Act but downright freaked about the provision of services like health care to the larger community?  Whereas, I feel just the opposite. Collectivism, I'm for it. Marriage, not so much.

And sharing a Costco membership?

I'll think about it.


  1. Relationships are tough when you are standing or sitting. Prone and supine are easier.

  2. For that there is good evidence.

  3. I love you in all your poses. Now would you please take my Costco card, stream my Netflix, and get your damned New York Times subscription straightened out already?

  4. Amazing how little I've changed since writing this piece. I feel exactly the same about the struggle between these two polar notions.

    So. In principle, yes, I'm happy to comply. In practice, no, I think I'd rather die.

    Sorry. It just came out that way. Probably doesn't mean a thing.

    1. It's the slippery slope that concerns me. Costco Card today. Maybeck Studio mortgage tomorrow!