Can Anti-Social Behavior Form the Foundation for Societies?
By Dennis Loo (6/3/14)
Those who argue that selfishness is the most authentic human trait need to account for something: How is it possible for society to exist if most people in society behave selfishly? If most individuals are self-centered and are therefore engaging in anti-social behavior - i.e., they treat their own individual interest above those of the group and those around them - then how can society, which requires for its very existence that people cooperate in a network of mutual interdependence, even exist?
It's true that selfishness and self-centeredness exist in varying degrees within societies outside of tribal societies. It's particularly pronounced in capitalist societies where individualism and the pursuit of material wealth are emphasized. But even in capitalist America where these traits are the most encouraged and lauded, if it were really true that people were in fact primarily selfish and greedy, workers could not work together. Teaching and mentorship more generally - which depends essentially on giving to others - would not exist. Children would not be nurtured and raised by their parents because to be a parent means that you have to sacrifice a great deal of your time, energy, and resources to support your children. People would get into car accidents constantly because they would not abide by the rules of the road and would not exercise any courtesy to others on the road. The collusion that goes on between oligopolistic sectors of the economy (e.g., between and among cable companies, oil companies, airline companies, etc.) who agree not to undercut each others' prices so that they can all charge more for their services, would not exist. In other words, even the sector most marked by ruthless competition demonstrates at least some marked signs of cooperation. Sporting contests could not happen because in order to compete in sporting competitions, the competitors must cooperate in the form of agreeing to abide by those rules and to meet at a certain field of competition at agreed upon times, to respect the decisions of referees, and so on. Groups such as couples could not exist because there are frequent differences between individuals in couples over what they want to do or how something should be handled, and if they were not at bottom cooperating in spite of those inevitable differences, then their being in a relationship with each other would have to end.
The foundations for sociology and anthropology as social sciences rest upon the core fact that no matter what kind of economic organization exists among human beings, whether it's primitive communal society or industrialized capitalist society, cooperation and mutual interdependence must exist. If this were not always and everywhere true no matter what the ruling ideology is, then human society itself would be impossible. Human existence would be impossible because being human is not primarily a product of having human DNA. In order to become human you have to be taught and socialized into becoming a human being. Most of this occurs unconsciously in that people don't explicitly think about why they observe social norms. They generally do it because they've been raised to do so and nearly everyone except the insane and very young children realize that they need to abide by social norms. Why do social norms exist? Because without them we could not exist in groups at all.
What those who think selfishness is an immutable human characteristic are doing when they argue for the neoliberal perspective of a "war of all against all" is mistaking the dominant ideology of our society for the actual operating and living conditions of our and any society. Since the system rules that we live under are invisible, it is difficult, though not impossible, for people to recognize those rules as the governing ones. The reason why people are so shocked by the behavior of someone like Elliott Rodger who went on a killing spree in Isla Vista is because he violated rules fundamental to our very existence as a society. The reason people despise mothers who in the rare instance kill their child is because without mothers nurturing and protecting their children, we could not continue to exist as a species. The reason why in a much milder context most of us are a little upset when we hold the door open for someone walking behind us but the person we are helping doesn't even act like they notice this favor is because our interactions with each other can only continue because we help one another and acknowledge that cooperation. When we get upset about something like the preceding, we don't generally know why we're upset on a conscious level because the rules of social interaction are so ingrained in us and so important that they operate on an unconscious level most of the time.
To say, by the way, that there is mutual interdependence even in capitalist society isn't the same thing as saying there isn't exploitation under capitalist society. Exploitation exists side-by-side with and can only continue to exist through a foundation of unconscious cooperation, coercion and deception. When enough of the working class and other sectors realize that capitalism's defining characteristic is exploitation, that it is a system that can only be changed through a radically different system, and that it is destroying the earth, then they and their allies will cooperate consciously to dismantle this economic and political system and replace it with one that is consciously governed by the logic of social need being paramount. Then the actual operating conditions of cooperation can be matched by a ruling ideology that explicitly recognizes the actual needs of society rather than an ideology that clashes with humanity and the planet's actual needs and that justifies tearing the social fabric and treating the planet and people as inanimate objects to be ruined for private profit.
This site aims to accomplish two related goals. First, it complements Dennis Loo's book Globalization and the Demolition of Society so that people reading the book can get more deeply into it. (See navigation bar above, labeled "GDS Book Annotations"). We believe that his book is a landmark, providing a solid foundation for politics of a new path. Taking such a path is critical to humanity and the planet's future. As his book's dust jacket states:
[F]ree market fundamentalism - also known as neoliberalism - makes us not more secure or prosperous: it tears the social fabric and undermines security, leading inevitably to disasters on the individual, regional, and global levels.
Neoliberalism is based on the mantra that market forces should run everything. It aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It consequently undermines the basis for people to voluntarily cooperate with authority as almost everyone is increasingly left by themselves to face gargantuan private interests, with governmental and corporate authority ever more indifferent to the public’s welfare.
Those in charge of our collective fates in government and business personify a heartless system based on profit and plunder. They have been relentlessly instituting profoundly immoral and unjust policies even while they insist that they are doing the opposite. We, on the other hand, stand for and are fighting for a radically different system and set of values than this.
Second, in order to get at the truth and because the ways in which humanity's historic striving for understanding and its capacity to wonder and imagine are very rich and diverse, we seek to reflect that richness and diversity on our site. See "About Us" on navigation bar. We intend to be engaging and compelling, as the best investigative journalism and art are, and relentlessly scientific, rigorous, and direct, as those who cherish the truth are. We believe that we can be both accessible and sophisticated. As Loo lays out in his book,
Defeating the empire is not something that occurs only on the literal battlefield. It is also something that is determined throughout the continuum of battles over many issues, including: ideas; philosophy; forms of organization and leadership in economy, politics, and other realms; ways of arguing; ways of responding to and respecting empirical data; interest in truth as opposed to expedience; how people and the environment should be treated; the nature of relations among people (e.g., between women and men, different races and ethnicities, rich and poor countries, etc.); ways of responding to criticism and ideas that are not your own; ways of handling one’s own errors and those of others; and more, all the way up through how warfare is carried out. The contrast between the methods and goals of the neoliberals and those of us who seek an entirely different world is stark. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 326-7)