The propaganda of the individualistic ideology or why we need to rebuild our communities.

Social-network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The buzzword these days is “networking.”

We all, apparently, are not making billions of dollars because we don’t network enough. In western society, we live our entire childhood lives and, for many, most of the early years of adulthood being told that we need to be independent. We are all told that we need to stand out as individuals. It is driven into us that the only way we can find any self-worth is by earning that worth by ourselves.

In the end we are told the world only moves by ultra-individualistic people.

We are starting to realize how wrong that is, how much we need community to build things. The class though that gains most from having us all stand divided has found a way around our natural urge to build community, “networking.” It is a roundabout way to say, “we need to have community without having community.”

From what I can tell, this became quite prominent as a counter to the communist Russians around the late 1960s, coming to full strength around the Ronald Reagan years of the 80s. Many western countries went from viewing their efforts towards building a common good by building value to trying to find the individualistic “cheat code” to the market that allows them to live high on rent-seeking – Not producing value, just collecting money. What’s sad is I feel that now we have 2-3 generations of people who believe the propaganda so much to think this is cardinal truth, this is how the “world works.”

I must admit, it’s a very appealing ideology. I can take full ownership over all of my successes and failures which I am able to learn from, and blame others when the failure is based on pure random chance or the fact that I cannot find/convince others to help me. It also helps my id immensely because I can legitimately act like a 3 year old over self-centric things, such as “why do I need to give Jenny or Tommy anything? They’re poor because they’re lazy, or why do I have to pay for the roads I drive on, they are already there. ” Instead of ever having to be an adult and realize that we are all interconnected and, in general, when Jenny or Tommy does better, so do I. Even if it costs me a little in the short term.

If you want proof that this is ideology and not human nature, you only need to look at the myriad cross-cultural studies around morality and ethics in children.

For example, an experiment was performed with children from China and Canada, Toronto to be specific, and in it a child was taken into a room and told they would be getting some form of test. The room was a mess, and the child was encouraged to help clean it. In China, the child needed no encouragement, they saw the room was dirty and immediately cleaned it. In Canada, the child needed to be prodded repeatedly to do anything. Afterwards the “teacher” comes in and notices the room is so clean, and asks the child who did it. In China, the child lies to maintain humility and says they don’t know. In Canada, the child tries to take full ownership of it, even though they were prodded strongly to do it.

Another study by NIH explains this phenomena clearly. The individualist ideology is not the default, nor likely the best, ideology for humans, no matter how much we have been taught this.

The extreme individualist is a nice propaganda piece, but it is a difficult way to build anything of consequence.  For example, how do you think we made it to the moon? JFK wasn’t even alive for 80%+ of the program. He didn’t make the speech and then go and build the Apollo program with his bare hands before he was shot and then it took a decade for people to figure out what he built. He reminded us we are all part of a community and that we need to work together to accomplish great and sometimes difficult things.

Somehow, we need to rebuild our communities if we are to build anything more lasting than tikky-tacky buildings or in Toronto’s case, giant, leaky glass buildings.To build something that we can all be proud of, we need to have a community for this. 

Note, we may accomplish things along this individualist trajectory, but we are taking the most difficult route to accomplishing things when we have every single person in the room insist on their personal interests as being the most important. All you ever get in those circumstances is prisoner’s dilemmas. To address the major and important problems that are affecting all of us now, we need to drop the individualist religion, and start to work together towards real solutions.

Look at Washington right now, the optimum is obviously not to continue playing the chicken game with the entire country’s economy, but rather to have a collaborative effort to solve these problems realistically. Yet, in the game of the prisoner’s dilemma, if your partner is defecting, then you need to defect too; that’s the Nash equilibrium, the natural place where any change makes you lose even more.

Now, it seems fairly clear we need to do this, how can we start to rebuild this community?

I will discuss my ideas in a later blog post, but they aren’t easy and could take a few generations to accomplish.

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