Back on Track; What About the Signs? The Road of Individualism

Okay, so I’ve proven the point that there is simply no point entertaining the self-proclaimed AGW “sceptics” – I guess I could have also referred to similar long and pointless exchanges with rogerthesurf, Pete Ridley or Elsa and her many sock puppets, which have all bogged me down previously.

That was the end of it for me.

They will, without a doubt attempt to draw me into the ludicrous ever more by baiting me with claims of “hiding” or being “fearful” of the “truth” to attempt to graffiti their claims all over the work I do here. So be it. I will simply resort to the literature which is the best that I can do and accept that I’m bias in favour of the evidence.

Resorting as low as I’ve had to means one positive however; I can only go up from this squalor!

Recently I hired Dawkin’s, The Genius of Darwin, which a section of got me thinking (the section included below).

On the road

My thought, whilst driving out to my monitoring site yesterday, was, “Why the hell do I follow the painted lines on the road and the speed limit or other notifications (eg. ‘Stop’) on the various signs?”

The answer is simple, but let’s ignore that for a moment.

From much of the social commentary I’ve read in recent years, post WWII policies in Australia (also likely to have been similar in other western societies) seemed to have been aimed at the greater good of the community. Since then however, there has been a slow erosion of such policies in favour of the individual. Much of what we witness in today’s neo-liberal capitalism is focused at promoting strong individualism, which is ultimately inseparable from disparity; you simply cannot have the super rich without the desperately poor.

Polly Toynbee discussed the problem of attempting to solve poverty while ignoring the top end in the UK, “…in theory, you could abolish poverty, because poverty, although it’s a relative measure is relative to the median and their view was always that you can pull people at the bottom up to the middle. It would be a very odd shaped society. There’s never been one that looks like that. The only societies that have succeeded are were they’ve been equal from top to bottom all the way through; where the ladder is short and easy to climb up and down. Where it’s long and steep, people don’t.”

David Walker, in the same lecture also states, “A new book highly recommended, by the emeritus professor of social epidemiology at Nottingham University, Richard Wilkinson, call The Spirit Level, presents again the strong correlative evidence that inequality is dysfunctional. Countries that are more equal are happier, more trusting, more productive. Stress, obesity, crime, fear, are all inversely connected to material inequality.”

Such individualism can be seen as “social Darwinism” under another name.

The changes to market structure over my life time have only seen an acceleration in emissions, environmental degradation and disparity (although the 30 year development of “Made in China” has improved the average standard of living in China – arguably at the expensive of their air quality and environmental health; an example of the complexity of the situation), which we could suggest takes such individualism even beyond social Darwinism – at the expense of future generations.

The promotion of this behaviour is counter to the finer virtues of our species. We are not simply mindless beasts subject to an apathetic race to propagate. The whole fabric of modern societies require a certain amount of rules – some of which may require enforcement. However to protest against stronger governing requires general acceptance of these inherent rules of social order and to act accordingly under one’s own free will for the betterment of all; taxes being one strong social and honourable example of this (which is largely disproportionately the burden of the middle and lower income earners). To further stress the point, I left The Human Island with the following;

Indeed, no man or woman is an island; even a CEO’s wealth comes largely at the work of those on the factory floor (increasingly in developing nations where such labour is cheap). No community is an island; for trade is by far one of the oldest ventures of our civilized cultures. No species is an island, entire to itself; every species is a piece of the continent, part of the main – what we refer to as ecosystems.

We are just a small fragment of the continent of life. We are more fragile than, in our pride, we’d like to admit. We are heavily reliant on a dynamic and little understood network. It is the rest of the continent that keeps us afloat.

If we want free, prosperous and happy societies, disparity simply cannot remain acceptable. Such large societies are only capable of functioning if social practices are employed – either enforced or by choice. There may be a genetic component to such altruism, that really doesn’t matter; large communities are impossible and ultimately self-destructive under dog-eat-dog individualism, “even a CEO’s wealth comes largely at the work of those on the factory floor”.

My opening question above is no different in selfishness and in acceptable answers to strong individualism; it’s in my and the fellow users best interests for each of us to pay attention to these rules.

So rigorously do I adhere to them that even when I can see no other vehicles to the horizon, I stay on my side and at the speed limit. Where I’ve previously argued that the strongest opponents of reducing the carbon in our energy supply wish to promote industrial stagnation, here I argue that these same individuals (who generally also loudly oppose tax and industrial reform and scoff at the mention that the current market design is a juggernaut leading us down a dead-end path) promote a social structure that even on a purely humanistic measure, simply cannot sustain itself. Forgetting for a moment all environmental factors that are imperative for human persistence, as Polly put it – where the ladder is long and step, people don’t move  – it is very unlikely you can raise poverty without reining in top end wealth.

Not only do we need to ask how can we manage natural resources better, we need to ask how we manage our societies better, to increase internal as well as external prosperity.


2 thoughts on “Back on Track; What About the Signs? The Road of Individualism

  1. I’d qualify your “Since then however, there has been a slow erosion of such policies in favour of the individual.”
    These policies have favoured a particular view of what it means to be an individual. Which I attribute to the general adoption of Thatcher’s ‘There’s no such thing as society. ‘ I don’t blame her entirely for this. Sensible people would have said, Don’t be so silly. The only reason it succeeded was because large numbers of people already had a very nasty view of what it means to be an individual – she gave them license to express this all the way to social policy.

    “The Spirit Level” is an absolutely fan.tas.tic book. It’s worth getting your own rather than a library loan. The links between all manner of social ills and ailments on the very same scale is a real eye-opener. And because there’s a single chapter for each item (I think there’s about 10 of them) you can always check up your memory of where’s that one? The few outliers and inconsistencies on different topics add food for thought about different cultures and histories. Very enlightening for them to do a parallel analysis for the states of the USA. They did it as a reality check – and it works.


    1. A lot of the commentary I’ve read has also suggested Reagan set the current neo-liberal wheels in action. I can’t comment greatly, beyond referring to these social commentaries, as I simply don’t know enough of political history.
      I’ve had The Spirit Level on my to-buy list since I learnt about it in Gleeson’s, Lifeboat Cities, which Mike @WtD learnt me. My fiancée asked for a xmas wish list and it was top on my list, but she later informed me that she chose Dawkin’s, The Greatest Show on Earth, because it was thicker – lol. Currently I’m reading Stern’s, Blueprint for a Safer Planet which I’m enjoying, except that it was written before Copenhagen and it’s positive hope for the summit is depressing in retrospect (I was reading Privatisation – Sell off or Sell out? but that was way too depressing).
      From all I’ve heard of The Spirit Level I’m sure it would remain a go-to book for my future work on this blog and hopefully in real life in promoting prosperity as I understand it.


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