Elementary Communism

When I was a kid and one of my friends would ask for a bit of food–a spare french fry or nugget, say–I would always say “no” and then give them the food.

In retrospect, I was annoying.

My logic was that I would of course give my friend a french fry–I always gave my friends french fries if they wanted them–and thus the asking was superfluous. If anything, I thought we should pile all of the food up in the middle of the table and then everyone could just take what they wanted.

I don’t think I realized that some people have bigger appetites than others. Or germs.

A couple of years later I had a little job that mostly paid in candy. Since I don’t really eat candy, I became known in school as “the kid with the Skittles” because I tended to give it all away.

Around this time I began writing the first mini-essays (really only a few sentences long) that eventually morphed into this blog on the psychological/spiritual/anthropological meaning of food-sharing. (Food is necessary for life; to give it away to someone else signals that you care enough about their well-being to take a potential hit to your own survival chances, hence the significance of food sharing rituals among people.)

It’s not too surprising that by highschool I ascribed to some vague sort of communism.

Note: highschool me didn’t know anything about the history of actual communism. I just liked the idea of a political ideology based on sharing.

So I think I get where a lot of young “communists” are probably coming from. I loved my friends and enjoyed sharing with them so wouldn’t everyone be better off if everyone acted like friends and everyone shared?

There were two problems with my logic. The first, of course, is that not everyone is friends. The second is that in the real world, food costs money.

As a kid, food was, functionally, free: my parents paid for it. I got the exact same amount of french fries and pizza on my lunch tray as everyone else whether I was hungry or not, because our parents paid for it. In the real world, I don’t buy more french fries than I want to eat–I save that extra money for things I do want, like books.

So what happens if I want books and you want food? Or you want books and I want food? And you and I aren’t even friends? Or worse, when there isn’t enough food for both of us?

Sharing is great when everything is free and there’s plenty of it, or there’s a resource that you can only afford if you pitch in with several friends to purchase. (For example, everyone in the house shares the TV.) In other words, when you’re a kid.

But it scales up really badly.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley.

Every single country that has ever tried communism ended up a disaster. Tens of millions starved to death in the USSR and China. Millions were murdered in Cambodia. North Korea is still an inescapable hellhole. Communism’s total death toll is estimated around 100 million people.

We didn’t exactly learn much about the USSR in highschool (or before.) It was one of the players in WWII, vaguely present in the few readings we had time for after the war, but certainly of much less prominence than things like the Vietnam War. It was only in college that I took actual courses that covered the PRC and USSR, (and then only because they were relevant to my career aspirations.) How much does the average person know about the history of other countries, especially outside of western Europe?

One of my kids accidentally did a report on North Korea (they were trying to do a report on South Korea, but accidentally clicked the wrong country.) The material they were given for the report covered North Korean mountains, rivers, cities, language, flag… And mentioned nothing about the country being just about one of the worst places on earth, where people are routinely starved and tortured to death.

Schools make sure to teach about the horrors of the Holocaust and slavery, but they don’t (as far as I know) teach about the horrors of communism.

So I think we could be in for a mess of trouble–because I understand just how appealing the political ideology of “sharing” sounds when you don’t know what it actually means.