Monday, 20 September 2010

The Need for Socialist Communes

I am really sick and tired of the present-day obsession with competition and individualism! On a daily basis, we are exposed to countless TV shows that do little more than exhibit one person trying to outsmart or shine more than one or more other individuals. The more brutal the competition and the greater the humiliation for the losing party/parties, the more attention is often given to the show. Several magazines follow a similar pattern - their covers do not normally feature a group of people that have done something positive for society. They usually prefer to show a couple whose marriage has broken down or to demonise some drug user who went on to commit a string of crimes.

When it comes to numerous workplaces, the degree of competition and individualism that pervades them makes it extremely difficult to develop genuine and lasting friendships. Considering that the average human being spends most of his adult life at work, it is quite sad to look back at the amount of time spent with other people and to still be unable to count many friends among that crowd.

Furthermore, it seems that an increasingly larger number of people are dedicating more time than ever before to studying after work in order to add more marketable skills to their CVs. Of course, if one spends a minimum of 8 hours at work and then an extra 2 hours attending some course or studying at home, there is not much time left to be with family and/or friends. For those people who do not have family or friends, the amount of time eaten up by work and study makes it fairly difficult to focus on building new relationships.

Some individuals might argue that communications technology has made it much easier for people to make friends. I would say that such technology has definitely made it easier to connect with many people all over the world, but the technology itself cannot replace the will to spend time and to share various experiences with other human beings. Taking Facebook as an example, it is possible to have over a thousand individuals tagged as "friends", but how many of those people would really qualify as true friends? How many of them know what you like to eat and drink when you go out? How many of them know what type of music you enjoy listening to? How many of them know what dreams you have for the future? How many of them would rush to visit you in hospital if you ended up there following major surgery?

Although various social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow people to share many of their thoughts throughout the day, a status update is often less than the tip of an iceberg in terms of trying to get to know a person. If I say that I am feeling tired on Facebook, this does not shed any light on some of my worst fears.

Whilst many people out there might be aware of which book we are currently reading or which movie we have just watched, this does not mean that all those individuals are committed to preserving a genuine friendship with us. Thus, when some people ask themselves "how many true friends do I really have?", they might feel a strong kick in the stomach as they find it hard to count the number of people who would provide some material and/or psychological help in times of need. When this happens, it is quite inevitable for several individuals to feel very lonely.

Loneliness. The social networking sites are great at trying to disguise this phenomenon. Loneliness is, however, very real and its effects should not be underestimated. Sadly, thousands of Euros/Dollars are spent every week on countless substances such as alcohol in an attempt to drown the pain that often accompanies loneliness.

There are many people who try to combat or to prevent loneliness by joining a religious organisation. This might have worked in the past, when several individuals were scared of questioning certain beliefs, but scientific thinking has become so strong these days that it is extremely difficult for many people to do or to believe something simply because it was written in a book many centuries ago. Granted, there are many positive things associated with the teachings of Jesus, but most religious organisations will not stop at those teachings; they will often also require their members to do certain things or to avoid countless behaviours which were never discussed by Jesus!

Another big problem that I see with most religious organisations is that they are way too judgemental. Many of them appear to be extremely eager to list the types of people that will never go to Heaven. A good number of them also use Hell in order to threaten people to believe; if you do not believe what I am telling you, you will spend eternity suffering in Hell! Isn't that horrible??? In a world where so many secular organisations are now talking about rehabilitation and about giving a wrong-doer another chance, the concept of eternal damnation looks totally absurd to me.

The main question that I would like to ask is this: if various religious organisations allow their members to live together, why can't there be secular ones that allow their members to do the same thing? Imagine how nice it would be to have socialist communes whereby the individuals living together share the same secular ideals and do not need to spend hours praying or reciting the rosary or memorising parts of the Old Testament! The people living together in this way would all contribute a share of their income to cover the commune's monthly expenses. Furthermore, if one of the commune's members falls ill or ends up unemployed, he/she would receive all the care and help that true socialists should give to those in need. The motto of these communes could be "All for one, one for all!"

The commune could consist of a block of apartments or a large house with many spacious rooms. All the members would be subject to a set of rules, but these rules would be motivated by the safeguarding of the community's welfare; they would not be based on something that must be believed simply because it was written by some "prophet" who lived many centuries ago!

So, could anyone tell me when the first socialist commune is going to be set up in Malta???

Monday, 13 September 2010

Forgiveness of One's Enemies

As I was surfing the Internet today, I came across the story of a certain Fr Juan Alsina. The latter was a Spanish Catholic priest who spent the last years of his life working in Chile.

Like many other Catholic priests working in Latin America during the late 1960s/early 1970s, Fr Alsina was very dedicated to improving the welfare of the hundreds of poor people that he met during his missionary work. During those times, several Catholic priests did not shy away from criticising the devastating impact of the capitalist economic model on countless communities.

Instead of being showered with praise, Fr Alsina was punished for his noble deeds. A few days after the Pinochet coup in September 1973, he was arrested and taken to a bridge for execution. Just before he was shot, he told the 18-year-old soldier who was going to kill him, "Please do not blindfold me...shoot me as you stand in front of me because I want to see you as I forgive you!"

Fr Alsina was only 31 years old when he was killed.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Rebels Against A Specific Lifestyle?

When talking about a typical adult's lifestyle, it could be said that most societies in the world clearly follow a specific model. The latter appears to be characterised by the following steps: having terminated one's full-time education (by choice or by necessity), a person is normally compelled to look for a job. Upon finding a job, an individual is usually expected to dedicate most of one's waking hours to that occupation throughout most days of the year. For millions of people, the cycle of waking up, getting ready, working, going back home, resting for a couple of hours, sleeping, and then repeating everything all over again is repeated for several decades. Given the fact that millions of human beings are constrained to borrow money in order to acquire a number of basic commodities, it is not surprising to see many people spending most of their lives trying to pursue freedom from debt.

Faced with the cycle mentioned above, it seems that most individuals just go along with the flow. These are the people who surrender a big chunk of their time on most days of the week so that they can earn enough money to survive and to enjoy some of the good things that life has to offer. These are the people who might have a number of jobs during a period of 30 or so years. They are the ones who believe that short of a "lucky exit", it is virtually impossible to think of an alternative lifestyle.

Although there are various types of jobs these days, it is difficult to regard the capitalist working culture that is encouraged in the majority of workplaces as the most socially beneficial one. In many private companies, there is cut-throat competition, a great deal of greed, and a shocking lack of concern for the general welfare of the employees. If an employee becomes ill for a relatively long period of time, instead of trying to think about ways of helping that person, it is not uncommon to hear many employees suggesting the need to get rid of such an "unproductive" individual in order to obtain a replacement. In countless private companies, nothing is more important than profit; whatever does not contribute to an increase of the bottom line should be eliminated or avoided. Several employers talk about "terminating" employees without showing too much discomfort.

Not all people feel able or willing to spend a good 30 or so years of their lives in such an atmosphere. Such individuals might believe that life is way too short to be spent on boasting about how much more efficient, smart, or productive one is compared to other fellow human beings. They might think that human beings were born free and that if a person wants to spend a year or two travelling and reading, one should be able to pursue such a lifestyle without the threat of starvation or homelessness. Such people might be very willing to help build a better society that would be able to encourage the positive development of every human being, but without having to compete against other individuals or to be constrained to one area of activity for countless years. Perhaps they would like to be able to help by spending two months teaching, six months building a community centre, and a year providing first aid services to several people.

Since most people do not seem to enjoy questioning the status quo and prefer to go with the flow, there is a widespread tendency to view those individuals who dare to rebel against the predominant lifestyle as "lazy" or even as "crazy". The attempt to be different is squashed by various measures which make life for such people virtually impossible. The most popular threat is starvation - if you refuse to go with the flow, you will not be given any money by nobody so that you will eventually die of hunger. With no money, you will eventually end up without any water and electricity, and perhaps even homeless.

I believe that it is far too simplistic to label all those people who decide that they do not want to form part of the predominant culture as lazy. Furthermore, even if they were acting in a "lazy way", something must have triggered such behaviour in the first place. Sadly, this issue does not seem to receive much attention during discussions about "the lazy people who do not want to work".

Throughout my life, I have come across some of these rebels. One of them had been working in a fairly senior position for many years before he decided that he no longer wanted to pursue such a lifestyle. Shortly after he quit, I asked him whether he was thinking of another job; his reply was, "I want to take a break...I want to spend some time without being bossed around by other people!" Of course, his decision had fairly predictable consequences. After a few months, his savings ran out and he started facing several problems to pay the bills, feed himself, and so on. In spite of all these hardships, he has still not returned to his former lifestyle.

Do you know any similar rebels? Have you ever talked to them in order to understand their motivations? Do you think that such people are just lazy and that they deserve all the troubles they face?