In 1917, psychologist Sigmund Freud coined the famous phrase “the narcissism of small differences.”
Freud defined his thesis as “communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other
ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other.” That best example of
Freud’s theory today can be found in the Arab world. The most vociferous religious conflict in the world
right now isn’t, as racist clash of civilization narratives would have you believe, between Islam and
Christianity. It’s between Sunnis and Shiites.
The narcissism of small differences very much applies to leftist politics as well. Undoubtedly some of the
most robust and heated debates on the internet today are between the million and one different
factions of leftist ideology. Marxists versus Anarchists. Left-libertarians versus Communists. Trots versus
Leninists. Syndicalists versus Mutualists. Revolutionaries versus Reformists. Accelerationists versus
Gradualists. Leftists are very good at making the case for their siloed brand of leftism, and will happily
debate others with a tiny variation in philosophy for countless hours.
What we’re not good at is making our case to liberals, conservatives, and right-libertarians. If we’re
going to succeed in creating a better world, whether its Scandinavian Social Democracy or Fully
Automated Luxury Communism, we’re going to need some form of vanguardism. We’re going to have to
repolarize the world on distinctions of class. Class consciousness does not raise itself. As Mark Fisher
notes in Capitalist Realism, capitalist propaganda is an extremely formidable force that inculcates itself
from attack and integrates its own opposition. Not everyone has to be a leftist for systemic change to be
realized, but we do have to create a broad base of support approximately sympathetic to opposing
exploitative and inequitable hierarchy.
It’s worth thinking about how we should attempt to win over the enemies of leftism, which should be
seen as potential allies who have yet to hear the good word. This won’t be achieved by debating the
merits and efficacy of utopianism versus scientism, but by explaining in simple terms why it is that we
are leftists in the first place, something many of us seem to have forgotten.
Socialism is Built Into the Foundation of My Thinking
In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt scores political ideology on moral matrices. On said matrices,
conservatives score high on issues of authority, loyalty, hierarchy, and sanctity. Their most sacred value,
distilled, is a desire to preserve institutions that sustain a moral community. These institutions include
the family, the church, and the government.
Liberals, in this context simply a heuristic to explain anyone left of center, score high on the issue of
caring for others as well as openness to experience. The left’s primary concern, above all else, is caring
for victims of oppression. Combined with the openness principle, this means a willingness to change
institutions in the service of reducing oppression. Things are not as they should be, and they need not be
what they were.
Two notes here. The first is obvious, but necessary to be clear about. I am, first and foremost, a leftist
because I am concerned with oppression and open to new experiences. Some of this comes from nature
and some of it comes from nurture, the exact breakdown of which is unknown. What this means is that
there is potentially (probably) circumstances where a conservative simply cannot be persuaded. Their position on the spectrum is so far in the camp of authoritarian hierarchy that any change whatsoever
will be resisted without fail.
The second point, however, is that antiquity suggests these foundations are more malleable than they
first appear. History is littered with examples of reactionaries becoming less reactionary, especially
when measured collectively. For example, when Roe v Wade was decided in 1973, conservatives swore
that this was the end of the country. Yet, most adapted relatively quickly. Sure, we still have
fundamentalists who harass women outside of abortion clinics, but the vast majority of right wingers at
least tacitly accepted abortion as the law of the land with little more fuss that a couple of angry
Facebook posts. Around 66 percent of Americans want Roe v Wade to remain the law of the land. Only
28 percent want to see it overturned. The issue of gay marriage has followed a similar trajectory. When
is the last time you heard a conservative bring up the “sanctity” of marriage?
This phenomenon applies to economic issues as well. Students of history will understand that the New
Deal was forcefully opposed by the right. Social Security and Medicare were socialism that was going to
destroy and impoverish the country. The children of the conservatives who made such arguments, our
beloved baby boomers, are both one of the most reactionary generations in history and one of the
biggest defenders of both Social Security and Medicare. These programs are considered untouchable
because the elderly love them so much and would vote out anybody who tried to mess with them. This
ideology, and our opportunity, is best exemplified by a comment aimed at Republican Bob Inglis in a
2009 town hall in South Carolina. The angry man stood up and shouted, “keep your government hands
off my Medicare!
To summarize, I am a socialist first and foremost because I have a left disposition. I have an overriding
urge, in part because of my biology and in part because of my environment, to care for the oppressed.
My openness to change prompts me to consider systemic institutional reform not only acceptable but,
in many cases, desirable. Others have a different disposition, but history suggest non rigidity. The
success of existing entitlement programs advises that a sizable number of reactionaries, in many cases a
majority, can be convinced.
Socialism is About Morality, Plain and Simple
The second reason I am a leftist today, a relatively recent phenomenon, can be attributed to my
perspective on morality. I have bounced around ideologically the way most young people do. I’ve
classified myself as a libertarian and a progressive at various instances of my intellectual development.
Inherent in all of these ideologies, however, was a moral opposition to injustice. The idea that an
accident of birth can determine whether someone starves or lives a life in luxury in which they are never
required to show one iota of competence makes me sick to my stomach. The fact we are causing mass
extinction, perpetually impoverishing the “Third World” through dependency theory, and decimating
American labor for the convenience of our trinkets disgusts me daily. The deliberate hollowing out of
the welfare state so wealthy people can have more tax breaks is a travesty, as is drone striking Yemen
My moral compunctions have only grown stronger as I’ve grown older. I reject the famous dictum, “if
you’re not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no
brain.” What exactly is it about aging that would make one grow more conservative? Entering an
exploitative job market where you can’t leave to pursue better wages or a more friendly work environment lest you lose your health insurance? Spending so much on childcare it’s hardly profitable
for you (or your spouse) to even have a job? Being saddled with so much student, credit, and housing
debt that you give up paying it all off before you die? Worrying about the burden the expense of your
funeral is going to have on your family in your final moments? Not to mention the emerging
phenomenon of seeing the earth’s climate become measurably less stable within the span of a decade
It’s hard to see how anyone with a basic sense of morality, save those wholly influenced by propaganda
or financial incentives, can view the world in which we live and come to any other conclusion but that
we need to move significantly to the left towards a more egalitarian society. The top one percent of
Americans own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Forty-two billionaires own more wealth than
3.7 billion people, which is half the global population. There are infinite number of ways to measure the
ways in which this rapacious inequality is bad for the global economy, but that’s a second order issue.
The most salient issue is that it is deeply immoral. To not fight against such wickedness would be an
abdication of my responsibility as a human being.
Empirically Socialism Just Makes the Most Sense
All the above certainly orients one firmly on the left but not inherently in the socialist camp. Why not go
the way of the Nordic social democracies, an imminently more achievable strategy? They have
empowered workers, democratized production, and nationalized oil production. If I were writing this in
2000, the Nordic model almost certainly would have been what I was advocating for. But two big crises
have emerged since 2000 that lay bare the reality that incrementalism and moderation is an inadequate
These calamities, probably obvious to the reader, are catastrophic climate change and economic
inequality rivaling the disastrous early 20 th century.
Conservatives constantly employ some iteration of the following spurious argument: climate panic is
simply a Trojan horse to usher in radical redistributive socialism. Obviously this is absurd, but only
because the premise and the conclusion are reversed. I, and many others, have embraced socialism as a
result of the emerging science on climate change that makes clear the fact markets are not equipped to
handle this problem. As long as corporations operate under a profit first model, the climate will be an
externality. Author of The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells, writes the following about
permafrost, just one of the several devastating climate disruptions soon to be reality.
“When it thaws and is released, that carbon may evaporate as methane, which is 34 times as
powerful a greenhouse-gas warming blanket as carbon dioxide when judged on the timescale of
a century; when judged on the timescale of two decades, it is 86 times as powerful. In other
words, we have, trapped in Arctic permafrost, twice as much carbon as is currently wrecking the
atmosphere of the planet, all of it scheduled to be released at a date that keeps getting moved
up, partially in the form of a gas that multiplies its warming power 86 times over.”
A sober and comprehensive look at the climate crisis reveals the limitations of social democracy. Yes,
Sweden has nationalized oil, the profits of which are redistributed to the population via a sovereign
wealth fund. It’s a very progressive and even desirable program that we would be lucky to have in the
United States. And yet, it contributes to the rapid destabilization of the earth’s ecosystem. The only way
to fix this contradiction of capitalism is to do away with the entire system. The issue is the demand for
perpetual growth necessarry to maintain a capitalist economy. It’s empirically true that if we retain such
a growth model, we will destroy the environment such that we eradicate the human species. The only
question is when. It is thus my responsibility as a human being to do my part in ensuring that does not
The second issue, inequality, is not only underplayed in terms of its seriousness but indeed extolled as a
virtue by many conservatives today. Inequality is natural, they say, just as hierarchies are (see: lobsters).
Anyone who has spent time studying or even reading a couple articles on early humans knows this is
bunk. Cooperation and collectivism is the story of the success of human evolution. We’re alive today
because our ancestors worked together.
But the fact that this theory of history is nonsensical is a second order issue. Even if we accept the false
premise that inequality was the natural state of early humans, this was also true of rape and warfare.
The purpose of modernity is to get past such inadequacies. Inequality is causing massive disruption on
every link of the global supply chain. This isn’t just an American problem, though we are certainly facing
crisis here to, it is a global phenomenon. It’s also not simply an issue of debt or lack of luxury. While
there is more wealth created today than in all of world history, billions continue to starve needlessly.
Conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America can be directly connected to inequality.
Inequality is even more catastrophic in an era of globalization. Dependency theorists painstakingly detail
how trillions of dollars’ worth of goods are being produced in the “Third World” for less-than-
subsistence wages so that the “Developed World” can have cheap imports. Its global redistribution from
the poor to the rich. If we don’t reverse these tides through a movement that combines domestic
agitation with global solidarity, we’re going to see increased food insecurity, violent conflict, and
When you combine what we know empirically about inequality and climate change, the picture that
emerges is grim. There is an developing body of literature linking global warming and the resulting
climate refugeeship to civil war in places like Syria. A 2017 UN report concluded that we could see as
many as 1 billion climate migrants by the year 2050. Data also shows the pernicious effects of inequality
on global stability, namely a clear link between poverty, desperation, and violence. What do Syria, Libya,
Egypt, and Palestine look like in 2050 if we continue on a path of widening inequality and rapaciously
accumulating climate devastation? What about Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia? Hell, what about the
United States? We’ve already seen a far-right bigot with a level of knowledge comparable to that of your
drunk uncle yelling about Muslims at Thanksgiving be elected President. Donald Trump is not an
aberration. He’s an entirely logical byproduct of late stage capitalism. What comes after him will be
worse if we don’t solve the underlying problem.
I am a socialist because my disposition is to stand in solidarity with the poor and downtrodden and do
everything I can to help ameliorate their suffering. I am a socialist because hereditary poverty, racial
stratification, and hierarchical exploitation are immoral. I am a socialist because if we don’t solve the
dual crises of inequality and climate change humanity as we know it won’t exist going into the future. I
am a socialist because we have a say in all this, and cooperative camaraderie is the only way in which we
weather the storm.