Perhaps you’ll recognize the reference in the title to this article to a novel published in 1888. It was the third most popular American novel of the 19th century after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur: Looking Backward: 2000–1887, a utopian novel by Edward Bellamy. When its second edition was published in 1889, it inspired 162 “Bellamy Clubs” in the United States alone to discuss and propagate the futuristic ideas in the book.
I was born in 1944. I think I read Bellamy’s book before I was 16, and it cemented many of my ideas. I was raised in a family that was strongly socialist, and although Bellamy used “Nationalist” rather than “socialist” to describe his ideas, they “somewhat reflect classical Marxism.” What he espoused as the future was what I wanted from the future. And in the days before I was 16 (the days of Truman and Eisenhower) it seemed to me that Bellamy’s vision was still possible. Certainly, those days were not like the 1930’s, but neither were they like the 1990’s. And as I look back from 2019 along the road that we have traveled, I can see that the hope and joy of the early days have disappeared. Today is the day of Trump and Jeffrey Epstein. But it is also the day of Bernie Sanders. Whither do we go?
Take Jeffrey Epstein, the poster boy of pedophilia. He died in jail, because his self-destructive activities were considered a crime. But Bellamy’s futuristic world treated crimes medically, not with imprisonment. And when you look back 75 years at the successes and failures of our criminal system, you can readily see why medical treatment might be a better answer. Certainly, pedophilia might respond better to medical treatment than to imprisonment.
The basic difference between Bellamy’s world and our world is that his is based on mutual cooperation and social love, while ours is based on individualism and greed. Even though the “average” American wealth is $692,100, the median wealth is $97,300, because the wealth of the super-rich pulls up the average. What this really means is that if the national wealth were to be spread evenly over the country, every family would have $692,100. Or, in Bellamy’s world, the money would be placed in a variety of governmental programs that would provide collective protection for the population (e.g., medical care, education, housing, food, transportation – in a word, practically everything).
Take transportation. Since before the 19th century, we have treated transportation mostly as a creature of private ownership. As a result, we have jammed roads, extra pollution, and all the difficulties of the private car. Collective ownership, whether that be busses, jitneys, or (out in rural areas) shared trucks and cars, would make a lot more sense. In our day, where locating a car or truck on a computer would be relatively simple, making the car or truck available on a shared schedule would work well. Indeed, we might need a very small vehicle one day and a large truck the next. Under a collective system, we could have both. Meanwhile, the overall cost of transportation for the society would be lower than the one we currently have.
In Bellamy’s world, there was only one capitalist: the government, which owned virtually everything, but made those things available to the citizenry under a shared system. We, on the other hand, have many capitalists, whose only goal is greedy grabbing for themselves, and where sharing is far less frequent. One wonders if that will ever change.
There are developments in our world which may make us finally aware of the need to follow Bellamy’s plan. I am speaking of climate change. Most of us are aware of the dangers of fossil fuels to the future of our planet. Yet it is difficult for us to get the capitalists who control the pollution making equipment to pay attention. In Bellamy’s world, dealing with climate change would be far easier, because control of the engines that cause climate change are collectively owned. Moreover, the pain from changing from one system to another is shared. In our world, the only way that we will get the capitalists to change their minds is through economic and social revolution, which is on the verge of starting. Starting September 20, 2019, there will be global climate strikes worldwide. I feel proud to be part of that, as we try to bring the population of San Miguel de Allende together in our Jardin Principal to demonstrate our dissatisfaction.
Climate change is making life far less enjoyable for many people, and we can see the impact locally. We have serious water problems, and climate change is aggravating those. There are solutions, but those need collective striving through the use of everything from rainwater catchment systems to solar-powered condensation. We need to deprive the wealthy of their fourth mansion and seventh luxury vehicle so that the campos may have water.
In our world, many are convinced that the generation of wealth is increased under a capitalist system. And this may be true, but the wealth is shared so unequally that it matters little that capitalists are encouraged to strive to produce it. Bellamy saw that sharing wealth and encouraging individuals to produce for the benefit of all was also effective – without all the problems with private ownership.
The principal problem with government ownership is bureaucracy – the attempt by the government to control everything. But it is certainly possible to have the government own everything while permitting the members of society freedom to use government equipment. If an individual wrecks some of the equipment, so be it. Exact a fair sum so that the equipment can be repaired. But don’t require an absurd amount of paperwork before the equipment can be used.I hope that you have read this article, Please investigate the September 20 climate change movement. Go to https://globalclimatestrike.net/ If you go to a rally in your local area, see if the climate strike movement can be made into something that is continuous and arouses the spirit of the community. If you can vote, please consider voting for Bernie Sanders. He is strong on working against climate change. Consider supporting a green new deal, as he does. But most important of all, look out at our society and encourage your friends, family, and fellow workers to make our country one of cooperation and social engagement. With hard work and outreach, we could make our society the one that Bellamy foresaw in 1887.