Growing up in the American school system in the wake of the Cold War, I learned one version of socialism and it went hand-in-hand with the one version of communism: that "evil" political system governed by tyrant dictators and characterized in distopian novels as societies blinded by propaganda and idealism.
Communism and socialism were bad words, evoking images of mass communes, loss of individual rights, and lack of personal drive or responsibility. They still do, I believe, to an extent. In fact, it wasn't until I traveled to France and lived there for a while that I realized that socialism is a veritable and genuine way to govern a people, with the people in mind. I think with awe and reverence to the country's health care and educational systems, to their social welfare and work standards, and to their simple, old-world style of pace and priority. Americans like to call this "work-life balance."
Once I was given a first-hand view of the inner workings, my opinion of socialism shifted from that of stark government control to one in which human welfare--rather than personal success--was given utmost precedence. Granted, the system has its flaws and disadvantages. But what government isn't tainted when humans play a part? Just look at the current state of the American political system to be reminded that no government is immune from tyranny and imperfection. And that line between imperfection and corruption is blurry.
I'm reminded of all this, because I watched Goodbye Lenin again last night and realized that it has got to be one of my favorite movies of all time. The movie takes place in East Berlin during the deterioration the Soviet occupation and, with it, the Berlin Wall. In it, a boy named Alex must protect his fragile mother from learning that her beloved East Germany is no longer as it was. As a result, the boy is given the rare opportunity to recreate events not as they actually were, but how his ideals would have them be. The movie gives viewers a real perspective into the socialist political system of that time--what went wrong, but also, what went right and how things could have ended up if all of the pieces were in place.
Isn't that the point of an ideal? To be unattainable, but also attractive so that we are driven to them, even if in vain.
I feel, lately, that human ideals have run amok. We're no longer focused on what might be, because we're dragged down by what can't be or by what isn't. Maybe it's because we've all decide--oh, educated, collective We--that ideals are no longer important. Sure there are general political ideals and religious ideals, but what about the ideals of the people? We're realists now. And we're running the country.
But what about romance? What about compassion and storytelling? These elements should hold a place in all of our hearts, be we capitalists or communists, Muslim or Christian, American or French.
And remember, there's room enough in this world for everyone to have their own little version. Heck, if the American history books can do it, why can't we? So if you haven't yet, watch this movie. And in particular, pay special attention to the ending. There's a lesson there for all of us--to be believers.