Independent Senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders...

Independent Senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta, Georgia on Aug. 17, 2019. Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/ERIK S LESSER

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist. In the most recent democratic debate candidate Pete Buttigieg of Indiana made reference to "crazy socialists." He said, "if we stand to the left, the GOP will call us 'crazy socialists.' If we stand to the right, the GOP will still call us 'crazy socialists.' It's time to stop worrying about what the GOP will say and just stand up for what is right."

Many Americans are on record as being opposed to socialism. Yet, when questioned most find it difficult to define just what socialism is. So, what is it? I'm glad you asked.

The dictionary defines socialism as, "economic and political theories based on collective or government ownership and administration." So, by definition, our public schools, hospitals, military, prisons and even our highways, parks and local police and fire departments are socialistic in origin and function. We can carry the definition further by including our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as "collective and controlled by the government." All are vestiges of our day-to-day life that are collective and controlled by one or another of our government units.

So, what in our lives is not controlled by the government and would not be socialistic by definition? Shall we include individually or family owned businesses, farms, transportation units such as trains and trucking companies, banks, insurance companies, etc.? Sorry, we can't.

Virtually all individually-owned businesses use our highways to either get raw materials in or products out. Farm commodity prices are indirectly controlled by the government so the lives of our farmers will not be either feast or famine depending on the weather and the markets. Trains use government-owned tracks and trucking companies use highways. Banks are insured by the FDIC (that first letter "F" means federal) and insurance companies. Forget it. They have a raft full of government controls as well. I read a news article a while back about kids selling lemonade on the sidewalk being shut down because they didn't have the necessary license and tax numbers.

So, are we against Socialism? Evidently not. We live with it every day. I can remember someone shouting at a political rally, "Tell the government to keep their hands off of my Social Security." Sorry, that ship has sailed. The government has had its hands on our social security since 1936.

So, has individualism disappeared altogether in our society? No, not at all. Most of us can remember the 1980s when the internet began to invade our day-to-day life. The government created it for us. Then the entrepreneurs took it and created dozens of companies including Microsoft, Google and Facebook, to name but three. There is no accounting for what creativity can generate.

Still, virtually everything we live with every day was created by us together. I challenge anyone to find anything functioning today in our current economy that was created by one individual or entity and operates independently. One of the current presidential candidates said, "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there - good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You are safe in your factory because of police and fire forces that the rest of us paid for."

We like to think of ourselves as a nation of individuals, and to some extent we are. Democracy is set up that way. But, we succeed only to the point that we can work together, be productive together and benefit together. Working together makes us stronger as a nation. Rejecting reality and thinking we can succeed in a vacuum is not the kind of thinking that made us into the great nation we all covet.

Mark L. Hopkins wrote this for the Observer-Dispatch.