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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Dreams of a real TTC

I ran across the following image today:

TTC dream map
TTC dream map

It got me thinking about Toronto and our interesting, but underwhelming public transit system. It’s a real problem that we are still clogging up our vehicular arteries with streetcars (see Queen St. during rush hour) and trying to compensate for it with patches to the existing system, or incrementalism, rather than simply doing it correctly the first time. What’s crazier though is we claim we do the incrementalism to save money, when in reality these subway designs and relief lines have been in planning since the early 1900s and if they were built when they were originally suggested, they would have cost less money overall than building the equivalent system today would have.

Anyone who has driven in this city will easily agree that the road system, at best, has difficulties handling the traffic load at that time, and at worst is actually fundamentally dangerous. This has become particularly worse now that the city is starting to densify downtown, and the condos have introduced an entirely new group of drivers and pedestrians further amplifying the problem. Many people who live along the TTC simply take the subway, but as I have experienced (and no doubt many of you have experienced), riding the TTC between 4:30 and 6:30pm on a weekday is as futile as trying to keep a snowball whole in a 400 degree oven. With either shoulder-to-shoulder discomfort on the streetcars, or a wait for the 3rd or 4th subway car before you can even get on the train at St. George or Bloor station interchanges.

It’s not like I’m saying anything new though. There have been a huge number of suggested improvements to the current system. It’s not like there’s a lack of good ideas out there, and even taking a small portion of any of those maps and starting to build it now would immediately make life for ordinary people in Toronto (and surrounding area) better and more importantly safer.

If we build it now, we will save money in the future, it’s that easy. These subways need to be built as the city grows, and as anyone can easily see, Toronto isn’t going to start shrinking anytime soon.

Our governments (municipal, provincial, and federal) won’t do anything about it unless Torontonians start demanding it now and demanding that we build it right the first time. A lasting, solid system that Canada can be proud of.

Just my thoughts,


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How little it takes to create a job. How much benefit we all get.

I always marvel at how little it takes to create a good paying job for a single person, if the capital is there. For example, for a person making $48,000 a year, it would take 480,000 people or 20% of the city of Toronto to give 10c, just once, to this person. If this individual were to take this money and then use it to fund their work, they could create all sorts of benefits for society, and no one would even feel the pinch from it. In fact, it costs less than a tenth of the price of a bottle of pop or a coffee. I’m pretty sure everyone could spare that. Heck, I’ve seen people leave a dime on the ground because it wasn’t worth picking up in their mind.

I must admit for some jobs where only a single non-reproducible object is created, this may seem a bit silly. (Unless of course, the object is a piece of public art or the like). However, for jobs like software development where the good could be open sourced and reproduced at will to everyone or jobs engineering tools like the RepRap (3d printer) which other corporations can take and use to build entire new industries of commercial products, this suddenly seems like a great idea. And if you need more people just imagine the next pretty easy to envision premise: 20% of the population of Toronto gave 10c every day, you’d have enough money to build a large organization devoted to developing software for the benefit of everyone and afford to live a comfortable happy life.

Now, I don’t say you should give the money to a person who hasn’t proved that they are willing to develop and work and I definitely think you shouldn’t force people who don’t want to commit to something to commit. However, let’s just say, for sake of argument, you could get this capital flow, say a 10c investment from this group each day for a year. This would be laughably nothing to each person individually. So what, in theory, could come of something this simple?

This organization could work on developing educational software and could build systems for educating the next generation.  It could work on new tools for teachers so they can better target the strategies for their children’s education. It could work on improving wikipedia, or even afford to pay teachers (or evaluation organizations) to go and check open sources of information like wikipedia and provide definitive and free textbooks. It could develop training resources for large businesses so they can more efficiently run their organizations and provide more ROI (and thus even more jobs.)

This organization could take existing open databases of the government and develop efficient websites for public transit to ease travel, or develop open source displays that could be cheaply manufactured for transit stops. They could develop trans-partisan platforms like TweetCommons, Open Parliament, PollingReport or How’d They Vote, opening the government in ways it had never been before – Making it easier for everyone to know who they are voting for and what the politicians really stand for.

This organization could develop existing hardware projects further and bring home some of the most amazing technologies of our age. For example, they could work on the reprap project and make 3d printing affordable and easily spread, I know OCAD students would all love to have a 3d printer in their house. They could develop pick and place robots that help with making complex circuit boards. They could develop cheap and effective home based manufacturing and prototyping tools that at first would be used by makers, but over time could easily change how we live and play.

This idea, implemented correctly, would take many open source projects to the next level by bringing good engineers, designers and artists into the open source world creating for everyone.

And all of this from less than a quarter of Toronto donating 10c a day for a year, a little more than 1% of all Canadians, and less than .5% of Americans.

This realization always amazes me. The ROI on that 10c would be incredible.

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