it’s not all doom and gloom

but it can come close.

not so long ago mrs thatcher made the by now cliched proclamation that “there is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families.”

This catchy little phrase summarises a particular world view that sees much of what is called human society as an emergent property of the interactions of various rational self-interested independent agents. These interactions are usually competitive with cooperation between agents mostly due to mutually recognised need and benefit.

It is a worldview that refuses to recognise self-lessness (as it threathens nice economic models and is difficult to measure) by seeking to define every self-less action as ultimately deriving from perceived self-benefit and failing that resorting to simplistic Darwinian arguments. So the recent sacrifice of a parachuting instructor using his body to shield one of his students from the worst of the failed jump thus killing himself and saving her life would result in mumblings about protecting the gene pool and the future of the race.

The problem with viewing the world like this, and i think that this is one that many on the right side of the political equation whether liberal, neo-liberal, conservative or neo-conservative is that it creates an untrustworthy Hobbesian place to live where everyone you know is constantly jostling for advantage or wanting something from you. It’s a world where generousity is viewed with suspicion and where everyone has an ulterior motive especially those people who seem most altruistic. It’s ultimately a lonely world where the only bonds worth protecting or placing one’s trust is that of the family and those that are contractually enforceable – preferably both.

When coupled with general free-market (or semi-regulated market) capitalism, this worldview fits in nicely to most commercial practices and is self-perpetuating. Hence the predominance of neo-liberal, liberal, conservative and neo-conservative ideology in politics and society these days.

I am not immune to this trap of course. And even now as I write this, I do believe that as a partial model of how portions of society works, this viewpoint is valid. But I am lucky that many of the people I know and socialise with see the world in a different way, one where altruism instead of being rare and irrational is instead the idealised norm.

Even if I’m always tempted to ask them how they solve the free-rider problem.