Out of the Desert

Our minds and emotions are conditioned by scarcity.

Our new issue, “Earth, Wind, & Fire,” is out now. Check out the table of contents and subscribe today!

For all his shortcomings, this snippet from the end of Michael Harrington’s Socialism is beautiful.

In desert societies — including the American Southwest — water is so precious that it is money. People connive and fight and die over it; governments covet it; marriages are even made and broken because of it. If one were to talk to a person who has known only that desert and tell him that in the city there are public water fountains and that children are even sometimes allowed to turn on the fire hydrants in the summer and to frolic in the water, he would be sure one were crazy. For he knows, with existential certitude, that it is human nature to fight over water.

Mankind has lived now for several millennia in the desert. Our minds and emotions are conditioned by that bitter experience; we do not dare to think that things could be otherwise. Yet there are signs that we are, without really planning it that way, marching out of the desert. There are some who loathe to leave behind the consolations of familiar brutalities; there are others who in one way or another would like to impose the law of the desert upon the Promised Land. It may even be possible that mankind cannot bear too much happiness.

It’s also possible that we will seize this opportunity and make of the earth a homeland rather than an exile. This is the socialist project. It does not promise, or even seek, to abolish the human condition, for that is impossible. It does propose to end that invidious competition and venality which, because scarcity allowed no other alternatives, we have come to think are inseparable from our humanity.