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The Greatest Love of All

14 November 2011, 10:13

I often had a problem with the idea that learning to love others is impossible without learning to love yourself first.  I now see that this is one of the most important lessons that we have to learn and to teach. I have spoken to many people, and engaged in many debates.  I have found time and time again that, in the main, the people that support the most radical ideas are the people that I have found to have a problem with applying this lesson to their own lives. I have come to believe that if a person is unable to recognize their own inherent value, they are unlikely to recognize any other person’s inherent value and also unable to empathize with them. The failure to learn this lesson results in many personal problems, but as they accumulate in society they become social issues, too.

I think that this idea has vast implications for societies and the morals and values governing those societies. Being special, or the acknowledgement of oneself as special and unique, is the basis for empathy.  I do not pretend to know the best way of how to foster this feeling in people but I do think that one of the best ways begins in the nexus between the nuclear family and the free market. I arrived at this idea because I have been reading a lot of socialist literature lately, and have found it to be diametrically opposed to those two things. The core tenets of socialism, as they have appeared throughout history, have been the abolishment of private property and the destruction of the family.

I wondered two things about what the phenomenon of socialism said about the human condition. How could ideologies be responsible for the deaths of millions of people? How could such ideologies still enjoy such popular support? I believe that in socialist doctrine the value of the individual is all but erased.  This stems from the core ideology of all men being ‘equal’, not just in legal standing or market interaction, but total equality in all aspects. They believe that any man, free of certain ‘corrupting influences’ can be taught to do anything. That is why the state assigns jobs to the individual. Aptitude, for socialists, is a myth. There is only the willingness to learn as instructed, or a stubborn refusal to obey. People guilty of the latter have merely been corrupted and cannot recognize that they are nothing special. In such a society, we see a view of the individual as a mere cog in a greater machine. When a cog proves defective, it is discarded and is replaced with another, identical part.

Socialist thinkers give as little thought to ‘broken’ humans as mechanics give to broken parts. If there is no special value attached to the individual, then there is no problem with ‘throwing them away’ or killing them in large numbers as the case may be. In such a society, central planners formulate policies and ideas with utter disregard for their impact on an individual level. If the plan does not work, then the little cogs are the problem - it’s never the People’s Presidium, or the Party, or the Politburo that are at fault. Society at large is seen merely the extension of the Will of the Party; it is not the collection of special individual pursuing their own self-interest. Everything is decided for the individual by the state, there is no private property and in pure socialism, no nuclear family. So at the most basic of levels, individuals are stripped of their value to other people, and their own concept of the value of others. This is a perverse equality, since all people are equally worthless in the greater scheme of things.

If you look at the worst socialist dictators’ biographies, you will observe first and foremost the failure of the family unit. Another interesting phenomenon is how they even change their names. Hitler’s father was almost nonexistent, the offspring of the union between a housemaid and her Jewish employer. Rightfully, he should have been known as Adolf Schikelgruber. Stalin’s father beat him mercilessly. He was born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. Kim Il Sung, born Kim Song-ju, father of Kim Jong Il and Dictator for Eternity of North Korea’s father died when he was fourteen. Cambodia’s Pol Pot was born as Saloth Sar. He was born into a moderately wealthy family of nine children, being the eighth child. All of these most infamous of men have, in my opinion, been made to feel worthless in some regard, maybe their extreme actions stem from both a desire to build self-worth as well as the inability to recognize the worth of others.

For South Africa (and Africa in general), there is a more immediate example of this social failure that can be observed on a wide scale. Large and broken families are a staple of African culture. At one time, the agrarian based economic activities called for this style of family, as many children died before reaching the working age. Later, due to certain factors such as the introduction of lifesaving medicine from the West, more children survived, but the mindset of having many children did not chance to adapt to these new trends. The AIDS epidemic has made many child-headed, single-parent or grandparent headed households. All of these factors create an environment ripe for abandoned and hopeless children whose primary activity is attempting to fend for themselves. Developing a personality or enjoying their parents’ love is simply denied to them.

As a parent, when you have above a certain number of children, it becomes extremely difficult to pay attention to each child. It is very tempting to treat them as a group rather than individual constituents of that group. In this environment, with exceptions, I believe that the child begins to feel the worth of their individuality diminished. There are other factors to consider, inspiring teachers, great role models, friends, books, religion, ideas, or philosophies can serve the purpose of fostering individuality. I only contend that this process becomes more difficult after having experienced a broken or large family.

It is important to realize that people make assumptions about others based on their concept of themselves and their own experiences.  This sometimes becomes quite childish in expression, for example, people may tend to think that since they grew up in a dysfunctional family, the family as a social institution is dysfunctional. This can also be seen as the thought that if they are not special, then nobody else is. People like these tend to lend themselves to more radical ideologies, and there are always people who feel that they have been failed by society. Thus, we can explain the perennial support that socialist ideas have enjoyed.

The free market can also be a saving grace to foster empathy and understanding, almost in stark contradiction to common sense. Although often considered to be selfish and motivated by profit, free market capitalism allows people to develop their own products and skills and achieve a notion of self-worth. Each individual becomes valuable then, as destroying any individual destroys their skill set. In a socialist society, killing an academic is not a problem because another academic more sympathetic to the state can be appointed by the Party. In a capitalist democracy it is wrong because that individual will be erased and the service he or she provides will be lost to that society forever. This is where the free market comes under a lot of criticism – that people are assigned a ‘value’ by the amount of money that they can make, the car that they drive and the house that they live in. The opponents of free market capitalism never take the alternative to its logical conclusion; that is to hold all human beings as worthless.

It is so important to teach people their own value, and how to love themselves. I think that we are failing the youth in this in South Africa, in our families, our schools and our politics. There are too many people around that support socialist policies and want to rule by fiat because they themselves have never had due attention paid to them. This is not a justification for the bad things that they do, but can help us understand their motivations in order to avoid such leaders in the future. By raising the next generation with a true sense of their own value as individuals, we will effectively halt the destructive and counterproductive actions that are all to evident today. Teaching the youth of all races to love themselves for who they are and to make them value their own individuality is the key to teaching them to love and respect others.

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