news from nowhere

William Morris, the English artist, writer, printmaker, socialist and founder of the Arts and Crafts movement published a wonderful book in 1890 called News From Nowhere. In it, the protagonist goes to sleep one night and wakes up in a socialist utopia in turn-of-the-century Britain. Money and government have been abolished, and everyone shares their labor and their goods with everyone else. Although it might technically be classified as Utopian fiction, I think it actually shows a somewhat realistic portrayal of what society could look like if money, greed, and survival weren’t the guiding forces in our lives. We would know the conditions under which our stuff is made, since distance divorces us from the reality of production in the prevailing capitalist model that we find ourselves in. We seem to think that the way our society is structured is the only way. Because of the success of late-period free-market capitalism around the world, Americans feel validated in their belief that we’ve somehow “won” over the socialists and communists of the world. In this country we always equate tyranny with socialism. The tyranny, oppression and despotism that existed in communist countries like the old USSR and East Germany is always wrong. But that kind of tyranny wasn’t true socialism. It was just very bad socialism. These human failures shouldn’t make us believe that we can’t structure our society on a more humane grounding. The wealthy of the world still live off the labor of the poor. Isn’t that kind of tyranny just as bad? We are finding out now that some goods imported from China, like pet food and other products, actually contain poison. Do we know the true conditions under which the things we buy are made? Do we care about the lives of the workers who make them? Do we ever really think about them at all, or is it too easy to forget about their plight, because they are invisible to us? Is the pressure to compete in today’s markets so intense that manufacturers will knowingly lace their products with poison, just to make a sale? Is that what we’ve come to? The college where I work has an overwhelming array of posters tacked up everywhere, asking me to support various social causes. But if we treated everyone with fellow-feeling, and insisted that morality and basic human decency must be included in the terms of our business transactions, there would be no need for causes. I would encourage you to read Morris’ book to see what a truly enlightened society might look like.

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