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Home > Politics
Collectives
by Bob Powell, 4/2/08
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J. Wright, libertarian, wrote:

There's no "social" anything. There is no collective. Only individuals have problems and individuals alone act on their own to solve them. Any idea of a collective reality is the ridiculous creation of a "socialist mind." Anyone who thinks otherwise is a common fool.

So there you have it. There are no collectives and I'm a "common fool" for thinking so.

The problem with this is of course that there really is a collective dimension that's integral to reality. See What's Spirit Got to Do with It? and Problems: A Society's or An Individual's?

We're heavily, and mostly subconsciously, influenced by the beliefs of our family, our community, and our culture. Even what we perceive gets to us through these filters. These filters let some information through and don't let other information through.

"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" is literally true. That's because systems have "emergent properties." You can't cut an elephant in half and get two elephants; an elephant is more than the sum of its parts. A mind isn't in the parts (neurons) of a brain; it's a manifestation of the whole of a brain and the interactions among its parts. There is society and culture that's made up of individuals, but society and culture are greater than the individuals themselves.

Here are examples of collectives that have a "mind of their own" and have a profound influence on our decisions, often without us being consciously aware of the influence:

Family. The reality that the family is a collective most directly drives a stake in the heart of libertarian belief.

Anyone who's familiar with the codependency model and has applied it to their own life knows this. When there's an addict in a family, the members of the family warp their behaviors in well-known, common ways to take on roles that help keep the family together. Roles: the enabler, hero, scapegoat, lost child, and mascot.

I once thought codependency had nothing to do with me, but that by attending a codependency workshop, I'd probably learn something anyway. To my great shock and dismay, I found my family members fit these roles exactly. And I'd thought I was too unique for that to be possible. I was too much of an individual to be so influenced. Oh, my.

Beyond this we know that maturity requires balancing between individual needs and family needs. Individuals can't just make their own decisions, independent of the family.

Unless, of course, they're juveniles ... teenagers ... libertarians. Teenagers and libertarians neglect responsibilities to the long-term and to the whole. They adopt a childish, teenage, foot-stomping, "I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it" attitude. Immature, irresponsible. They're not responsible human beings.

Community. Boulder has different values than Colorado Springs. In Boulder they invest in infrastructure and restrict growth to be attractive by maintaining quality of life, but high taxes and higher home prices reduce the regions attractiveness. Colorado Springs tries to remain attractive with low taxes, but infrastructure backlogs grow which makes it less attractive.

In Colorado Springs, excessively influenced by libertarian, right-wing economic beliefs, they want a more "free market" economy that redistributes the costs of development onto the public at large ... cost-side socialism ... that leads to infrastructure backlogs, and they want low taxes that leads to even greater infrastructure backlogs.

Because of national-level policies, problems related to growth cannot be solved at the individual regional level. See the Growth Facts of Life for how regions can be individually logical, but collectively irrational. For other examples of the individually logical, but collectively irrational, see The Trade Deficit and the Fallacy of Composition.

Mob behavior. Mobs behave in ways the individuals in a mob would never behave on their own. The libertarian belief that individuals make their decisions on their own denies this can be.

Culture. There are common sets of beliefs that affect the behavior of individuals in a society. Anyone who's lived in a foreign country (I have) understands that they believe differently and behave differently because of those different beliefs. Every society has a culture that influences individual behaviors. The decisions we make are influenced by society. Even the information we take in is filtered through societal filters, through what our neighbors tell us and through the media. Europeans see the U.S. as dysfunctional and short-sighted, which of course we are. And conservatives quite readily demean Europeans, especially the French.

Soldiers. Soldiers on the battlefield come to understand that they need to look out for each other. They know that there but for the Grace of God go I. I've often heard that they stay with their units because their buddies depend on them ... they're part of their unit, their team, their ... uhh ... collective.

The same is true for each of us. When we see a homeless person on the street, "There but for the Grace of God go I." Some people can work their way out of poverty, but national policies condemn at least 12% of us to live in poverty. See There's no 'free market' for Labor for why.


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