A very nice point indeed

Perhaps then, I might finish by putting in a word for modern individualism. We are social animals because, as we evolved, reciprocating favours from others in our community assisted our survival and the passing down of our genes. We learn to pick out those who we think will return our favours, and therefore have a strong sense of who we regard as a friend.

The trouble is that our instinct leads us to regard others as foe. The very same natural propensity to be communal and socially cohesive, makes us aggressive to outsiders. It has created pogroms, civil strife, war.

In recent years we have become more civilised. The group that we regard as like us, as a friend, as liable to reciprocate our favours, has grown enormously. The free market and modern technology have helped. This has weakened the bond we feel with our immediate community and we see ourselves more as individuals. Social relations have become shallower, but our network wider. We have lost through this, but we have also gained. We fight fewer wars, we kill each other less often, we treat minorities much better, we are less aggressive to outsiders.

The less local that local community that we belong to the less likely we are to start beating up on the community next door.

7 comments on “A very nice point indeed

  1. “The less local that local community that we belong to the less likely we are to start beating up on the community next door.”

    So, the EU being a less local community than, say, the UK…?

  2. The worst communities are imposed. Just ask those women in certain parts of the world whose choice of attire is a matter for the community.

  3. I would add that, in a truly free market system, the individual would tend to give greater “economic” value to the family unit and relationships with close friends as they would be the ones ready to support us in times of crisis, poor health or old age. Indeed, large, close knit families acted as pension policies for most parents up until the early part of the last century.

    The suffocating presence of the welfare state has effectively removed the need for social cohesion, through a slow process of “infantilisation”, to the point where one can live tied to the apron strings of the nanny state without giving a thought to neighbours or relatives.

    Even considering the possibility of private insurance and pension schemes under libertarianism, I dont believe social bonds and community relations would necessarily be worse off today were it not for the interference of the state. Ironic – but not surprising – then that big government is the supposed remedy to the ills of contemporary society.

  4. ANL:

    It’s both better AND worse than you describe.
    The specialization of function (division of labor) increasing to a great degree and making much more of the world economically interconnected
    increases greatly the good will and comradeship felt by even widely separated (by geography) peoples without in the slightest reducing the interconnectedness of family, friends, and more local communities. It is precisely the ambitious, progressive, capitalistic, and individualistic nations (and especially the US) on whom people in distress in far-off places (whether emergency or longer-term) have always been able to rely for aid and assistance of all forms: political (called “foreign aid”), charitable, and investment.

    The welfare principal and welfare state produce tyranny and impoverishment at home and enmity abroad. Nothing could so insure and advance the welfare of the poorest on earth as the complete dismantling and elimination of the welfare state in the industrialized nations. In this sense, collectivist policies amount virtually to criminal assault on the poor, the weak, and the defenseless.

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