Growing up in the 60’s-70’s in a world of communes and cults, I got to observe several social experiments. It was an idealistic time and people were wanting to try new things, to engineer a new and improved version of pretty much everything. Karl Marx was a favorite, each according to his ability, to each according to his need. It’s a deceptively lovely ideal that conjures up visions of equality and fairness, everyone taken care of, the pie divided up fairly so no-one is ever left out.
It practice however, it is an utter failure. Socialism completely dismisses human nature, disregards psychology and biology, denies our intrinsic power plays, and delivers the exact opposite of fair and equal. Rather than unicorns and rainbow skittles, you eventually get gray uniforms and long bread lines. I suppose everybody starving together is a form of equality, it’s just not a particularly desirable one.
Long ago I watched a community farming experiment go awry, each according to his ability, each according to his needs. The problem being, some people are nothing but bottomless pits of need. What they perceive they “need” is the cream of the crop, the best of everything. They feel entitled to it too, because of perceived hurts and wounds. You owe me. I’ve already paid the price. These people actually compete to see how much they can get without ever having to give. Than there’s another group, these martyrs, that feel as if they should put in effort and than put in just a bit more, so people will be able to see how awesome and generous they are. They actually compete for persecution status, too. I do all the work around here, but I’m so noble, so generous, I only want one egg and a pea in return. Look at me! Look at how wonderful I am! When the needy ones fail to express enough adoration for the martyrs, things start to get ugly fast. The martyrs start to get resentful, the needy get defiant, and soon everybody is competing in a race to the bottom, seeking victim status as if it were a crown to be achieved.
There are other players in this game too, innocent bystanders who have no idea what’s going on, others who become like collateral damage who often wisely walk away, and a handful of clever, although somewhat immoral ones, who sneak in and harvest all the crops while everybody else is busy bickering.
I’m not saying people can’t work together cooperatively, or that community farming is doomed, or that no-one can ever have a successful community garden. I’m saying that Marxism/socialism as an ideology is an epic failure, a dogma rooted in innocence and idealism, seductive perhaps, but so lacking in wisdom it is nearly comical.
I’m rather surprised to realize that Karl Marx still has so many fans. Two seconds walking in the real world is the cure. As to the origins of the phrase, each according to his ability, to each according to his need, I suppose that’s a discussion for another day. For the moment I’ll say that I agree with Ayn Rand’s take on it, the dogma comes wrapped in pretty paper but it hides something quite sadistic.