Busch-Swilling Bolsheviks

This one goes out to my senior-year apartment crew.

I was once discussing political philosophy with my dad, and we both agreed that under ideal theoretical conditions, a socialist utopia could be pretty cool: from abilities according to needs and all that lot. (Before someone from the future reads that and declares me a godless pinko, keep going.) But as dad pointed out, the fact that every utopian philosophy throughout history has failed applies just the same to communism, and the millions who were starved, repressed, detained and killed by benevolent guardians of the proletariat like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and the Khmer Rouge indicate that, hey: communism hasn’t had such a great track record.

The conservatives among us argue that socialism fails because human nature is inherently corrupt, and thus people are always out to get theirs no matter what the system. Then they see the wealth generated by capitalist societies, and naturally want it for themselves. The leftist argument states that communism failed because of constant foreign anti-communist interference, and that capitalism’s economic impact on the lower classes has been too effectively degrading for them to rise up in revolution.

Those theories both have some truth to them, but that’s some heavy theory. For a simpler explanation, here’s one from personal experience.

Yeah dude, I’ll get in on that five-year plan next week, for real.

Senior year of college, five friends and I lived in a big apartment just off campus. We had just spent a year living in our fraternity house — still easily claiming the No. 1 spot as the filthiest place I have ever lived — and we thought, “F this, we’re seniors and men with standards: instead of nothing but Busch Light, we’ll now keep Rolling Rock or Miller Genuine Draft in the fridge in addition to the Busch Light. And while we’re at it, we’re going to keep our apartment in great shape. Not only do we deserve a clean living space, but you never know when some fine ladies will be stopping by to be flattered by our well-groomed apartment and Carlo Rossi wine.”

Planning for the glory of this collective effort, we made up a chore wheel that rotated each week so that each person would cycle through bathroom duty, floors, kitchen, trash, etc. We were pumped, we were planned, and we were in full agreement on just what we had to do to achieve our collective goal.

Then the next weekend came along, and that was pretty much the end of that.

There’s no good reason this plan shouldn’t have worked out. We all clearly wanted a clean apartment, and were smart, motivated dudes. The tasks were divided fairly, so that nobody felt an undue burden. This was a big group payoff for a relatively small amount of effort, and yet it still didn’t get done, mostly for a variety of personal reasons. Some of us laxly defined “clean” as only leaving boxers on the bathroom floor for three days instead of a week; others were so stringent about standards of cleanliness (substitute this for “party loyalty”) that several dudes stopped cleaning altogether in protest. Now we had the infamous free-rider problem, and it was back to growths in the refrigerator before you knew it.

Perhaps we could have increased each person’s stake in the outcome somehow and things would have worked. But to me, when you can’t get people to participate in a collective effort on something that is right there, solvable, in front of their freakin’ face every day, how in the hell are they going to do it when the impacts are esoteric and spread among millions? Moral of the story is that planning is one thing, but level of involvement is wildly variable.

And college is awesome.

Tags: , | Link

2 Responses to “Busch-Swilling Bolsheviks”

  1. And by party loyalty you mean Kupe?

  2. Another side to this coin is that I “the messy roommateā€¯, was never motivated even by the possible gains of a clean apartment. As you alluded to, perhaps the wheel failed because the “worth” of cleanliness was not evenly valued among all 6 roommates. Thus, by deciding we would all to do an equal share of cleaning, we were really applying an unequal burden on those of us happy to make trash angles at the end of each month. Perhaps a negotiated capitalistic system, where each of us cleaned relative to how much we cared about a clean apartment would have been more successful. (I know what you’re all thinking, “why hasn’t some nice girl snatched me up yet.”)

Leave a Reply