The Paradox of Individualism Part 2
By Dennis Loo (2/23/16)
Back on May 28, 2014 I published an article here entitled "The Paradox of Individualism." I am going to spell this particular paradox out more explicitly than I do in the article so that the discussion and thinking about this can go on on a higher level:
If a person says, on the one hand, that we are free as individuals to do as we please and that the character of systems are a product exclusively or mainly of individual decisions rather than mainly due to system logic, and then says, on the other hand, that there is this immutable thing called "human nature" and that nature is to be selfish, then the logical results of this line of reasoning are two-fold:
1) things will supposedly never change and systems that changed over the course of human history (hunting and gathering societies, domestication of animals and planting of crops, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism) weren't really a change and are all essentially the same (e.g., women are still men's property as men can do with them whatever they want with no repercussions and blacks are still enslaved and lots of people have no rights) because "human nature" is unchanging and the notion of any progress is an illusion; BUT
2) individuals all have free will so they are "free" to express themselves any way they want - as long as what they want to be is selfish.
This last point reminds me of Henry Ford's famous statement about the Model T: "They can have any color they want as long as it's black."
One and two are contradictory positions because you can't have it both ways. If society is the way that it is and systems are the way that they are because of "human nature," then individuals don't have free will, including the "free will" to be social beings whose primary characteristic is mutual reciprocity and taking others into consideration, having empathy for others, and so on. These latter characteristics are what necessarily characterize the vast majority of people's behavior, including even many sociopaths who know that they have to pretend at least to care about others in order to pass as a normal human being.
If, on the other hand, individuals have free will, then society and systems are not the way they are because of something unchanging called "human nature" because then individuals would be free to act as they wish, except that (because of point 1) they are not free to act except according to their supposedly inherent nature as selfish individuals.
If you're going to claim that individuals have free will then you cannot at the same time claim that all individuals are forced to act out their "real" and unchanging nature as selfish individuals.
The reason individualism as an ideology or set of ideas is paradoxical and wrong is because it doesn't accurately account for why most people act the way they do most of the time and it doesn't take into account social dynamics which includes the disproportionate effect of "social proof" (look it up). It doesn't recognize that systems and individuals operate according to different logic and that systems take precedence over individuals overall.
If what I have set forth is wrong, then all of sociology does not deserve to exist as a science.
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)