Sunday, January 11, 2015

Finding Balance Between Individualism and Society

One thing I learned studying anthropology is that all societies deal with the struggle between the needs of the individual and the needs of society. Society requires stability, knowledge of the rules, the consequences of ignoring the rules, and participation by all members of the society in its maintenance.

The core problem in modern “liberal” societies is the fact that the majority of their members are inadequately prepared to function as contributing members of the society, instead encouraged to act as individuals in pursuit of individual “rights” and “freedoms.”

We see this in daily social discourse here in Santa Cruz. At a recent County Commission meeting, public comment on the dogs off-leash issue was dominated by an unruly demand by a small group of dog owners that County government give them what they wanted, which was freedom to pursue their individual desires with no consideration for the broader public good. The meeting devolved into intimidating mob rule, rather than consideration for others and cooperative participation in the course of local government.

Organized religion once was the domain of family and societal values, a place where members of a society learned the rules and the means and methods of carrying out public life within those rules. Since the Enlightenment, religion has lost its place as the arbiter of public values, with nothing to take its place in a society dominated by science, with its lack of overt values, and industrial commercialism, with its overweening values of independence, individualism and consumption.

In addition, schools have been stripped of their responsibility to teach values, and therefore, young parents no longer have the skills to teach values to their children. And children, being the learning vacuums they are, pick up their values ad hoc from popular culture: their peers, popular music, film and television. 

We therefore live in a society that no longer knows how to conduct itself in its own interest. The desires of the individual are paramount, while the needs of society are left wanting. 

As we move into a time of increased societal stress, as a result of environmental changes piling up due to corporate structured, value-free society, this lack of social nurture will bode ill for the survival of our society. 

That which cannot go on forever, won’t.