Archives for posts with tag: individualism

Attempting to value individualism over collectivism is similar to trying to establish which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Having experienced both – collectivism and individualism put in practice as political principles, I have noticed that neither extreme is capable of working in a sustainable manner.

Communist regimes had fallen one after another.
Fascist regimes did the very same thing.
Pirate republics could never resist for long.

Coming back to what is happening in the US, I’m afraid very few people are aware of how much collective thinking had been embedded in the American Psyche. The good kind of collective thinking…
Americans go to church. A place where you go to to be together, not alone.
Americans used to help each-other. Charity used to be a big thing. Slowly, it had become a dirty word.
And so on.

Individuals can not exist on their own. They need each other to survive. And to thrive.
Collectives can not last for long unless the individuals who constitute them do respect each-other. Help each-other maintain and develop their individuality.

As simple as that.

Let’s face it. The homeless are ‘survivors’ who don’t pull their weight as members of the community. They live ‘off the land’ – but the land they use to live off is us, and they don’t give anything back in return. Except for the garbage they leave behind…

Hence we have a problem.
Which we might choose to ignore. Or to solve.

I’ll presume we want to solve it.
First step to solving any problem is, of course, to understand its nature.

So, what is bothering us?

The garbage they leave behind?
The sore sight they offer each time we see them?
The danger they represent for public safety?
The fact that they occupy public property? And prevent the rest of us from using it?
The fact that they don’t contribute?
The loss of their creative potential?
The bad example for our children?
They are a reminder of what could have happened to any of us?

Second step, the ‘how’ of the matter.

What caused such a number of able bodied people to live in the streets?
Why do so many of them use drugs? And alcohol?
Why do so many of them refuse to be helped? By the institutions which care for them?

I don’t have a real answers for any of these.
The first category of questions depends on each of us while the second on each of the homeless.

Nevertheless, I would like to point out a few things.

Very few of the homeless have been born on the street.
Most of them have been educated into the values of the society to which each of them belongs. Very few are recently arrived immigrants, at least in the US.
“we found that the longer that immigrants had lived in the United States, the greater their risk for homelessness. This is a unique finding that has not been reported before and suggests that immigrants are more likely to shed previous practices and attitudes from their origin countries over time as they live in the United States, which can put them at increased susceptibility to mental illness, substance abuse, and other factors that can increase homeless risk.This idea would be consistent with the literature finding that the health immigrant effect declines for immigrants in the United States as they acculturate and develop habits and practices similar to native residents”. J. Tsai, X.Gu, Homelessness among immigrants in the US

Why do I bother? Specially if I don’t have any answer?

The way I see it, each society is a social organism.

This image had been labeled ‘misleading’ by the Reddit users who cared enough about the subject. And rightly so. “This data is incredibly unreliable. It spans from 2009 to 2015 in different countries and has different criteria for defining homelessness.”
More about how this kind of data is been gathered and why it becomes misleading can be found in the OECD report on the subject. Click here for the 2019 one.

And what might we learn from this? Leaving aside the ‘vagaries’?
That New Zealand has way more homeless people than Japan?
And why nobody knows anything about the New Zealand homeless – or about those in the Czech Republic, but all concerned netizens are horrified by the manner in which the US are treating their homeless?

“”Where are we going to go now?” Denver closes park near Capitol, clears homeless camp citing rats, health hazards.”

For starters, and given the relative size of the US population, there are way more homeless in the US than in the rest of the OECD. Roughly counting, of course.
Secondly, the US is the wealthiest country in the world. And the one which used to describe itself as being the place where all dreams could be fulfilled.

Then, and this is only a hunch, there is the ‘small’ problem of the ‘native citizens’. Oops… not a mere hunch anymore. “In 2013, 12,754 Māori were homeless, comprising 32% of the homeless population compared to comprising just 14.9% of the total population” Same considerations may be taken into account when evaluating the situation in Australia and Canada while Europe has a rather consistent Roma population. Many of whom continue to live in a ‘traditional’ manner.

So, after all, is there anything to be learned here?

Actually, yes.

That luck does play a huge role. It makes a hell of a difference being born a Maori in New Zealand or a billionaire’s child in California.
And that becoming acculturated in the US actually increases your chances of becoming homeless.

What?!?

Have you already forgotten? 😦
“we found that the longer that immigrants had lived in the United States, the greater their risk for homelessness. This is a unique finding that has not been reported before and suggests that immigrants are more likely to shed previous practices and attitudes from their origin countries over time as they live in the United States, which can put them at increased susceptibility to mental illness, substance abuse, and other factors that can increase homeless risk.This idea would be consistent with the literature finding that the health immigrant effect declines for immigrants in the United States as they acculturate and develop habits and practices similar to native residents”.” J. Tsai, X.Gu, Homelessness among immigrants in the US

The way I understand all this is that there must be a link between homelessness and the intensity, and character, of the social interaction prevalent among the members of any given society.

People in the West, and specially in the US, see personal success as paramount. And personal failure as … well… something to be shunned. Simply because it reminds us of what may happen to any of us.
Specially when taking on the risks we must assume if we want to really succeed. As we are pressured from early childhood.
The risks the immigrants grow accustomed to the longer they live in the US.

I’m afraid I was that close of forgetting a point I planned to make.
Why so many of the homeless use drugs and have an alcohol problem.

“The new study, led by NIDA’s Dr. Marco Venniro, required rats to choose between social interaction with another rat or access to a drug (heroin or methamphetamine). The animals consistently chose social interaction when given the choice, and this was true when they were first given access to the drug or when they were experienced drug takers.”

For a (free) market to function, at all, it needs active economic agents.
Which economic agents need, in their turn, certain amounts of concentrated resources at their disposal. A certain amount of ‘capital’. Regardless of who owns it. Or disposes of it.

In this sense, no matter where each of them finds itself on the individual to socialist spectrum, all societies are ‘capitalist’.

On the other hand, individual capitalists – economic agents, do not need a free market to thrive. The do indeed need a market to sell their products/services, only that market does not have to be free. On the contrary, even.

OK, no monopolistic market has survived for long. And all monopolies have eventually failed. Even those who had grown ‘too big to fail’!

But go and tell this to any of those who happen to be at the helm of a monopoly… be it of economic or political nature …

And why are we still trying to solve this riddle?

‘Cause this is indeed a riddle…

Remember those metaphorical stories whose heroes end up having to find the answer to one in order to save themselves/the day?
Like Sophocles’ “What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?”

A riddle, of course, being a question which cannot be answered until the individuals attempting to solve it stick their heads out of the box into which the riddle had been framed.

So. Individualism? Collectivism?

Having grown up under communist rule – supposedly the most collectivist social arrangement to date, I can testify that there is no such thing as collectivism without individualism nor individualism without collectivism.

Libertarians’ mantra is that socialism/communism – and even liberalism, as Americans understand it, is a form of collectivism. And, of course, that collectivism is bad for you.
Socialists, on the other hand, maintain that the current situation – which is seen as being bad, is the consequence of the growingly extreme individualism which plagues modern societies.

Interestingly enough, both sides are simultaneously right.
Communism is indeed bad for you and the bad aspects of today’s society are a consequence of callous selfishness.

On the other hand, all communist societies are composed of a huge mass of obedient subjects AND a small number of individual, and very individualistic, leaders.
Similarly, all developed capitalist societies – including those sporting huge discrepancies between the shrinking number of haves and the growing number of utterly destitutes, have reached the current level of sophistication because most of their members continue to share the belief that ‘all men have been created equal and that all of them have certain, nonnegotiable, rights: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’.

“Share the belief…”
But wasn’t this the very definition of collectivism?
A social arrangement where the most important possession belongs to THE public?
Was there anything more consequential for what is currently known as the ‘Euro-Atlantic’ civilization than this shared belief? Other peoples have been in possession of way more abundant natural resources. Had reached ‘astronomical’ levels of civilization way before we were even able to wipe our noses… And yet…

Haven’t we, individual thinkers, figured out yet that unless we agree on ‘the basics’, we’ll be easy prey for the callous ‘snake oil merchantmen’ who have no qualms to use collectivist slogans to pitch some of us against the others?

Haven’t we figured out, yet, that there is no ‘political collectivism’ without fear? All collectivist social arrangements, both socialist and fascist/nazist, have been built using fear/contempt (of the other) to cement ‘the people’ into believing the lies proffered by false prophets. Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao… Lies proffered by callously individualistic political agents… bent on satisfying their own domineering instincts and making ‘good use’ of pre-existing conditions.

Haven’t we figured out yet that individualism, the tame version developed along with the good aspects of the Western Civilization, is, by nature, the very beneficial consequence of the mutual respect which (still) exists among the members of our societies?

So, to answer the riddle, we need to understand that there is no real conflict between bona fide individualism and bona fide collectivism.
Just as there is no conflict between two perpendicular lines.

Since, by trade, I’m a mechanical engineer, I’ll use a very practical metaphor to illustrate this idea.
Consider a pressurized Oxygen tank. The more pressure inside, the more Oxygen you can store in it. The more useful the tank. Only if you ramp up the pressure too much, you end up with an explosion.
In this situation, you might consider ‘pressure’ to be in conflict with the ‘walls of the tank’, right?
Wrong. The conflict is only in your mind. Pressure is simply perpendicular to those walls. The more pressure those walls can withstand, the more useful that tank is for you.

But it’s your responsibility to determine the thickness and resilience of those walls. It’s your responsibility to choose how much to ramp up the pressure.
For the very simple reason that that tank is yours.
It is you who will suffer the consequences.


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