By: Hazar Alsabagh of Sunday Preach in collaboration with Diverge Media.
My brother and I are on the opposite ends of our nuclear family. I’m the oldest, and 12 years away from me stands my brother, the youngest. It’s clear from the years between us that we lived two very different childhoods despite having the same parents. My childhood consisted of poverty, welfare cheques, subsidized housing and No Name brand shampoos. The inherent shame and desperation to get out of poverty consumed my parents because they constantly compared themselves to other “self-made” immigrants in our community. It was so bad that they dove into make-money-fast trends only to lose money fast. I’m not saying this to shame my parents; they were and still are fantastic parents! But when they had my sister and me, they were young and in their early 20s. Back then, they assumed they had to be well off and “grown-up”, and so they skipped many steps they needed to take to gain experience and build the wealth they wanted. That said, every failure became a lesson learned and brought them this much closer to success.
Fast-forward to 12 years later, and the other two siblings that followed didn’t need to wear garage-sale outfits. My mother had signed them up for sports activities, they got to take Dunkaroos and Fruit-Rollup for lunch, and participated in paid field trips. While I was asked to get a job at 16 and grow up fast, my brother is now 20, and his clothes and activities are still bought and paid for by my mother. That’s not to say he doesn’t want to work; the kid is feverishly looking for a job so he can be self-sufficient. But he wasn’t “cut off” from the family budget like I was at 18. Given this context, it’s only natural that we both have different perspectives on life. He leans more towards collectivist socioeconomic theories because of the life in which he was brought up. Meanwhile, I tend to support individualist theories because I was raised to believe that I needed to work for the things I “want”. This is not to be confused with the things I “needed”; I’m blessed that I never needed anything while I was a child.
In honour of Sunday Preach’ first anniversary, I wanted to share the views of two very different generations and strike a conversation on who’s right or wrong and how to consolidate these views so that we all live in harmony. This post is part one of two. Fair warning: for the sake of space in this post, I will oversimplify these ideologies.
Mi casa es su casa y mi dinero es su dinero
My brother is an intelligent kid. I know he’s 20 and an adult, but he’ll always be my baby since I helped raise him with my mother, and so please permit me to call him “kid” until the day I die. But he’s more than intelligent; he’s intellectual and social, which makes him a rare breed. There are plenty of brilliant people who lack intellect. Or those who are social but only know how to blow hot air. Of course, I may be sounding biased but believe me when I say I also have many reasons to think my brother can be an idiot. After all, what person doesn’t think their siblings are dumb at times?
My brother’s forte is combining research and his experience to formulate a logical opinion. He will never draw an idea without reading about the subject matter, fully understanding it, and reasoning it with his life experience (or lack thereof). So on the subject of socioeconomic ideologies, it’s safe to assume he’s done his homework. And while neither of us subscribes to polar or absolute doctrines such as communism or capitalism, he does prefer a more collectivist society, and it’s safe to assume most of his generation feels the same way (Gen Z).
Let’s first explore what we mean by collectivism: collectivism is the consensus that we all work together to build and maintain our society and support one another through social programs such as free education, dental, healthcare, and universal basic income. The idea is that we help each other out; you make the bread, I build the house, she provides the medicine, and he teaches the future generation. When a house burns down, we all pool our resources to put out the fire. Collectivist societies are not new concepts or completely unrealistic; for example, in Waterloo, Ontario, Mennonites live in a commune where they have all agreed to distribute labour and share resources equally. Likewise, Japan and other Asian and Southeast Asian countries support collectivism or at least many collectivist values. Values such as financially supporting one’s parents, living with one’s in-laws, providing social and economic assistance to those in need by age demographic, disability, unemployment, etc., are examples of collectivism.
My brother believes that a collectivist society is more productive than an individualist society. He believes that everyone has “the right” to education, healthcare, dental and employment, and I certainly don’t dispute him there. I feel as much as my brother does; everyone has a right to a fair shot in life. One can even argue that some families are collectivists; for example, my kid brother was raised with the mindset that he didn’t have to want or need for anything. His childhood resembles very much that of social assistance, where my parents provided the equity to set him up for success. Therefore, he was raised with a sense of privilege and believed that – as an adult – society should continue to provide for him the way his parents had, and everyone is entitled to the same support. For my brother, this wasn’t a privilege but a right because he lived it. Whereas I looked at the opportunities he was given and thought, “must be nice”. Many countries – and even communities at home – have shown us that collectivism can be successful. So what’s the problem? Where do my brother and I differ?
Now and then, my brother and I would debate about global socioeconomic issues and how we would resolve them. So naturally, the theme lately has been diversity, inclusion and equality. One day, we discussed the best way to promote equality in a society that was systemically designed to set everyone but the 1% up to fail. “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you equality,” I said nonchalantly. My point was that this country (Canada) and its leadership could neither afford to provide equity nor collective social services because they’re dead-ass broke. I was proud of myself for that one until he retorted, “Money can buy you happiness, but it can’t buy you fulfilment.“ Dammit, I thought to myself, this kid made a good point. It’s true, you can give someone all the universal basic income you want, and they still won’t feel fulfilled; alternatively, a Rockafellar can have all the money in the world and still feel unfulfilled as a human being. This feeling eventually leads us back to unhappiness. My brother argues that there is more “wealth” in a collectivist society because helping each other is more fulfilling and more rewarding, ergo, makes us happier. He explains that everyone has a right to health, education, and physical and financial security. This includes but is not limited to:
- Hydro & utilities
- Public Transporation
- Healthcare (including Rehabilitation)
- Financial aid: unemployment, disability, senior care (pensions),
- Sick leave
- Legal representation
Most of these are already entirely or semi-subsidized depending on the province (talking about Canada), provided stipulations are met. However, my brother wants to see this applied nationally and wholly covered by the federal government. In other words, he believes that this should all be free. But is it free? I mean, really? The short answer is no, of course. And so when we get to this part of the argument, his response is, “Of course everyone should pay taxes,” because, in his mind, taxes are a contribution to cover social services, which in theory they should be! But when a people repeatedly elects for decades on end a reckless and incompetent government who cannot budget to save one’s life (quite literally), taxes then simply become a reliable revenue to support a ballooning and useless government administration. It’s gotten so bad that this year, no one even GAVE A SH!T ABOUT THE BUDGET! I’m surprised the banks haven’t foreclosed this country because no amount of paycheques – especially after the year we’ve had with this pandemic – will help us recover from the financial destruction caused by this government administration. And I’m not just talking about the Trudeau government, by the way. Dougie’s government has been a complete and utter trainwreck. I digress…
To demand a collectivist society is to beg to be enslaved.
Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I mentioned earlier that many countries have successfully implemented elements of collectivism. But, again, we’re not referring to communism or even socialism here; we’re talking about certain social services that the people considered a right. According to Hofstede Insight consulting firm, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia have an index score of below 50 on individualism, suggesting that collectivism is widely accepted and applied in these countries. Working in teams, collectively taking accountability for successes and failures, and providing universal social services is expected by the people rather than a demand. Unlike in the United States, their index score for individualism is an unsurprising 91 because the US has spent over two centuries promoting the idea of individual success, the American Dream they called it. Canada, as expected, has a score of 80.
No one has the right to place one human being in a position of political power over another.Wendy McElroy
Then what does this mean? Why is it that free healthcare (for example) works in some countries but not all, like the US? It all has to do with the (collective) mindset, and of course, money and the willingness to put down money (by the people). Let’s go back to our Mennonites in Waterloo, for example: when a community collectively agrees to share their resources and labour, you attain harmonious collectivism. Those who want out will leave, albeit it may not be easy, but it’s not impossible. The same applies to the Four Asian Tigers, Japan and Malaysia, and many other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. The consensus in these countries is that they want to live in a collectivist society (not to say you don’t have your critics because there are plenty). However, if you pay attention to the data on Hofstede Insight’s website, you’ll notice there’s a strong correlation between individualism and power distribution. The less individualistic a country is, the less equal is the distribution of power. In other words, collectivism comes with the price, and that price is sacrificing equality. It’s almost as though the collectivism that is meant to promote equality ends up diminishing it in practice. Ironic, isn’t it? Who would have thought that distributing more power to a government, i.e. giving someone political power over you, would make you less equal than those who govern you and those who reap the benefits of said government? That said, a society that agrees to a collectivist ideology and is “freely” willing to contribute through tax and other means is less enslaved regardless of the unequal power distribution than those who demand that their government enforce collectivist policies on everyone when everyone has not consented. The latter is enslavement, while the former is free will.
The point? Wanting to be a part of a collectivist society is not the same as being forced into one. Stay tuned for my views on individualism and how we consolidate the two ideologies in part II.
Country Comparison. Hofstede Insights. (2020, August 12). https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/japan,the-usa/.