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Commie!

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A few weeks ago my teacher called a classmate “commie,” during a class about the Red Scare in the fifties. Knowing that this could be taken seriously by the student, since it’s considered an insult in the U.S., the teacher apologized, clarifying that it was just a joke. The fact that communism, a mere economic system, can be used to insult someone was revealing for me. I found it curious that a socioeconomic idea could be turned into a moral issue and decided to investigate it.

Certainly, America is the best example of a capitalist country in the world. It’s interesting how here capitalism is not just an economic system, but also a part of the way of thinking. It isn’t hard to meet people whose main objective in life is to become wealthy, with more possessions than what’s needed for a comfortable life. An example of that is the TV show MTV Cribs, where wealthy celebrities show their large mansions filled with overwhelming yet useless gadgets. But just the fact that capitalism is part of the “American way of life” isn’t enough to explain why “commie” has such a bad meaning.

To understand that we have to go back in our history, to the Cold War period (1947-1991.) During the early part of that period being called a communist wouldn’t be just an insult like today. It would be far more serious. The expression of communist ideas in America could take someone to jail, since the U.S. was in war against the Soviet Union, a socialist country ruled by a communist oligarchy. Also during that period the government focused in making people embrace capitalism as a way to show their patriotism. The repeated anti-communism propaganda associated with the fear of arrest explain how communism got such a bad place in Americans’ minds, even though some of us can’t even tell for sure what communism is.

Although historically communism has been a threat to America, it doesn’t apply today. “Communism” still sounds terrible for Americans because of the idea of no private property, which goes against one of the core values in our culture. Few things have the same strong significance in America than personal belongings, and the idea of taking it away is unbearable. Even the Declaration of Independence, the first American document, already established the right to private property as one of the three fundamental, inalienable rights of people. Later the text was changed to “pursuit of happiness,” but the concept persists until this very day. The noxious idea of sharing all property added to the historical reasons for antipathy towards communism complete the present scenario of hatred and aversion against “commies.”

What’s odd is that even a high school student can identify the “lenses” that are over Americans’ view of communism and yet no one else seems to realize it. The reason is that most of the people feel scared of the idea of leaving their established “comfort zone” about what’s right and wrong to seek new ideas. Only few people realize the advantages in searching for new ways to face old problems, but those who do it certainly feel the benefits of doing so.

A common mistake is to think that a huge change of mind is needed for intellectual growth. This is not true. A simple effort to leave your “comfort zone” and learn something is enough, for two reasons: it makes cultural biases evident, allowing the achievement of impartial knowledge; and it can either expose flaws in a particular way of thinking or provide a strong base to a thorough argument against a rejected point of view.

Specifically regarding socioeconomic systems, the advantage of learning more about different ones is the achievement of a higher level of understanding of the existent alternatives to our current system. This way Americans can think critically about our capitalism and propose changes that would make it better. Examples of other successful countries, like Norway, that aren’t so strictly capitalist as America show that there’s indeed an alternative.

Utopia or not, a society where everyone was aware of their cultural biases, got over them and used their knowledge to improve their country would certainly be a successful society. It would be a society where a teacher wouldn’t have to worry about insulting a student with a joke about politics. Instead, this teacher would know that all the students could get the joke, because they knew exactly the meaning of that word, “commie.” After all, it isn’t more than just a different way of thinking.




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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

Rachel B. said...
Feb. 3 at 11:42 pm:
You end your work very, very well. Which, for me anyway, can be so difficult! I agree, a bit of open mindedness can go a long way!
 
IgorR replied...
Feb. 5 at 9:02 pm :
Thank you! I always worry about ending a critical response strongly, because I know that the last paragraph is what's going to stay on the reader's mind after. 
 
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