Socialism and the American nomads

I met Aline this summer. She’s a like-minded adventurer who really squeezed the most out of her first summer in Alaska, spending almost all of her free time hiking and camping and exploring the mountains and trails around McCarthy, AK. She’s also from France, originally, though she’s been in the States for quite some time now.

She read some of my posts on capitalism and socialism. We were eating together, outside on a sunny afternoon in July, and we started talking about it all. Aline’s perspective was international, it was interesting, and I’m still mulling it over.

Basically Aline’s main point (or at least the one that really stuck with me) was that she appreciated American mobility, the kind of uniquely American ability to be transient. We talked about it, and Aline expressed a good deal of sympathy for my pro-socialist and anti-capitalist writings, but said that there were many things about American individualism that she appreciated, and she wondered if we’d lose some of these things, were America to embrace socialism. As a quasi-nomad, I immediately understood her point. 

There’s a certain romanticism about American mobility, it’s the life of the cowboy on the open range or the pioneer family in a wagon train, slowly plodding west and looking for a little plot of land to settle.  Agent X recently passed along a great little documentary (see below) that I’d never seen, American Vagabond, that explored some of the romanticism surrounding the transient lifestyle, and the ways it calls to many of us, despite the hazards and dangers.

Is socialism doomed as being anti-individual and anti-American?

Capitalism is an economics of transience. I find it kind of ironic, too, because the greatest advocates of capitalism are the wealthy (obviously) but also mostly just folks who are settled (suburbs, nine-to-five, white picket fences and whatnot); yet capitalism as a system tends to move toward what people are now calling “the gig economy,” which is short-term contract workers with little or no benefits or security. So, it’s a system that has eroded permanent relationships to people and place. It’s no accident that the erosion of the family has gone hand-in-hand with America’s embrace of capitalism.

In a capitalist economy, it’s the owners and shareholders (a small group) who call the shots, and profit is their primary goal. Hence, anytime you can cut wages and benefits, it’s good for the bottom line. If you can move transient workers in and out of your business, it’s cheaper and more profitable.

Still, Aline raised a good question that I still think about: is socialism doomed as anti-individual? Does it violate the sense of individual freedom that so many of us love? Does socialism stifle individual creativity and initiative?

Kodiak, Alaska, 2012
Quite often when I debate the merits of socialism, I get objections that socialism is a system where big government calls all the shots, crushing the soul and spirit of the individual. As a drifter myself, I’m particularly sensitive to this charge, but my hunch here is that the opposite is true. I think that a distinctly American form of socialism could combine our instincts for individualism with a heightened sense of social consciousness, that it could be a collective consciousness based on the freedom of individuals, a true and effective synthesis.

This kind of thinking isn’t new to me. If you’ve read American radical leftists like Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky, then you’re probably nodding your head right now. Few are more suspicious of a dominant government and an oppressive state than Zinn and Chomsky, and yet they are squarely in the socialist camp. The best term for their political perspective is “libertarian socialist,” whose express goals is a form of socialism that protects the freedom of the individual from coercion.

Is such an American synthesis possible?

Could we have a socialism built by American nomads?


Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

7 thoughts on “Socialism and the American nomads”

    1. What about democracy? The aim of democratic socialism (the kind of socialism that resonates with me) is not necessarily big government. The size of government is not so important as how you use it, meaning that when democracy is functional, then we can do things like single-payer healthcare and use government in wise and compassionate ways.

      As someone who advocates for homeless persons, what do you think of single-payer healthcare?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I am a Bible guy. A churchman.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t use a hospital or doctor. I do. But that might actually be schizophrenic of me. I certainly am not “comfortable” with the idea of praying for the doctor’s hands etc…

    I think democracy has become hijacked by the Enlightenment – or vis a versa. Not that kind of historian, so my insight is limited. But I can see why the two dance together.

    I don’t see how democratic socialism is not Big Government. But Big Government is not really a problem. Bad Government is a problem. For that matter, at that level, big corporation is not a problem (however, I cant imagine a possible universe where it wouldn’t be).

    I seek first the Kingdom of God, then all the things I need shall be added.

    I seek it from inside the Tower of Babel. Like Daniel and his friends. I am in this captivity. I struggle for my imagination and my allegiance to be free of it. But I am committed to being free of it even if it costs me my life.

    But I expect you know where I am going with all that. Kinda surprised you asked. I figured you would know my response before I gave it.

    I expect it sounds like I live in a dream world… a little out of touch with “reality”. And I expect, especially since I must deal with tensions of mystery, that there is some truth to it. But I don’t think anyone is exempt from that, actually.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agent X: “But I expect you know where I am going with all that. Kinda surprised you asked. I figured you would know my response before I gave it.”

      I don’t picture you as being static and predictable. You’re a thinker and a person passionate about tsedeq, the biblical Hebrew for righteousness. And “the word of God” or “the Spirit of God” are neither static nor predictable either. So, I appreciate the give-and-take, and I’ll keep poking at you. =)


  2. That’s fine. I will be honest and caring as best I can. I just feel like I’m old news instead of Good News. I doubt I offer anything new…

    But if that’s what you like. It’s what I like too.

    God bless you…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey, read The World Beyond Our Heads by Matthew B. Crawford. Perhaps it’s the case that individualism is best worked out in community. Knowing who the fuck I am, is established by rubbing elbows in the tribe. I have socialists leanings, anarchist leanings, and Libertarians leanings. That a man can be free and own his work, not be a slave of producing for another, this is freedom. Yes, you are most likely to be an individual within a socialist framework.

    Liked by 1 person

Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.