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Tag Archives: individualism

Will you Lean on me or are you an indi-bloody-vidual?

The recent election highlighted to me something as a nation we are not talking about. It is also something that our leaders on the left are not talking about, yet they should be.

This election, the right wing of politics supported by the media were successful in creating a divide. This divide is not just about rich versus poor, or big business versus the worker. This divide is about the underlying constructs of the very essence of everything that has underpinned us as a nation since Gough Whitlam broke 23 years of conservative rule – progressive reform achieved through the power of democratic socialism.

This divide is about how we are choosing to see ourselves as a society – or if we see ourselves instead as segments of individuals and not as a society at all. This divide is now markedly between Liberalism, Libertarianism and conservatism and right-wing populism which is underpinned by the Individualism of the right versus the more collective Socialism, Environmentalism and Democratic Socialism of the left.

I say this is markedly because not only have the Liberals returned to power, but also we have seen the rise of more minor parties and Independents who espouse Individualism as their central tenet win more and more seats.

In addition, we have seen the media promote (including paid promotion) and encourage the voices of those who espouse Individualism and interrupt (up to more than 30 times in a half hour segment) to suppress those who espouse democratic socialism. The interest in individualism and breaking the two party system is also reflected as a central theme in comments across various social media platforms, including newspaper forums.

I see the rise of individualism in Australia in two distinct areas. The first is the decision-making process and democratic representation to develop and pass the legislation, which shapes us. The second is individualism as the central tenet of the ideology of the majority of seats in our current parliament.

Decision-making and democratic representation

With regards to parliamentary decision-making and democratic representation, we have seen a rise in discussions about breaking the two party system. An excitement and a peaking of interest in how it is better to see individual voices in parliament trade off for their vote with other individual voices and creating blocs of these voices to pass legislation; rather than the collective decision-making process of a major party, based on their collective values and ideology.

The worrying theme about the rise in these discussions is voters who advocate this; do not seem to care what the individual or minor party stands for. As long as they are an Independent, or a minor/micro party, that is what matters. The fact that these people or parties are not a collective or a part of a major party appears to be the most appealing aspect for many voters.

There is a plethora of voices shouting loudly about how we need to destroy the two-party system, but there is only a modicum… no… a complete absence of any argument about why we need to destroy a system that has delivered us many successful reforms over many years. The focus is that the two-party system is a failure, whilst ignoring the successes.

As a supporter of Labor, I am not even going to talk about the extensive list of successful Labor Party reforms that have shaped our country under the two-party system. Instead, I am going to use as an example, the only progressive reform the Liberals have ever had in my lifetime – Gun Reform.

When pockets of the nation are excited about the fact that a person is an Independent, or a micro party, rather than how these people or parties may vote on an important issue such as freedom of gun ownership laws, it is a concern. These anti-two party system voters appear to have a care factor of zero about the values or ideology, which will underpin decision making on this matter.

Do we risk ice-fuelled junkies running through the streets playing real life Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in the name of individual freedom?

Is Individual freedom more important than the protection of the rest of society?

Is ideology that insignificant and major parties so abhorrent that we take this risk with a protest vote? A protest vote in which many participants cannot articulate what they are actually protesting about?

Within the two-party system, the major parties have a particular ideology and party platform that underpins them. This platform, informs voters about how their values align with many, many areas of policy. The challenge for major parties is to actively promote their central values – their ideology which underpins how as a collective they will make decisions.

To be fair, Labor did push this extensively during the campaign with their 100 positive policies, however, I feel this was significantly absent during the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years. The Liberals in my view failed spectacularly in this area with their 2013 pamphlet, which was upgraded to a plan for a plan in 2016.

Could this be attributed to Labor’s failure to win the election, but success in the number of seats won? Could this be attributed to the Liberal’s success in winning the election, but failure in number of seats lost?

Is ambiguity now so 2013? To restore true belief in the major parties’ platforms, the major parties must wear their values on their sleeves and promote their liberal/conservative agenda or their democratic socialist one, or in the case of the minor/major Greens party – get back to pushing environmental reform. The parties need to set their agenda to purely focus on attracting true believers to their causes.

There is a growing tide of people desiring the annihilation of the collective structures that underpin the decision making of a party platform and the two-party system. These people argue that bringing forth a sporadic cacophony of decision-makers is a more ‘democratic’ option. The people who advocate this appear to have no interest on how these individuals or parties will vote on issues, which are not a part of their single issue-focused or populist agenda.

Paul Keating is remembered and revered for his wit and quips. However, I truly believe he was able to be outstanding during his time, as both major parties were at true odds with each other in terms of ideology and Keating was able to harness this as a true battle of ideas between left and right.

I also believe that Shorten is definitely on the right path with his latest reforms more left of the spectrum than the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years and he is also wearing democratic socialism on his sleeve. Time will tell where he goes with this.

If Turnbull is threatened by the rise of the Independents and minor parties – he must do the same. However, this will mean he will need to admit what he actually does believe in. This will be his greatest challenge yet.

With a sparodic cacophony of decision-makers, confusion will continue to reign until values and ideology once again trump populism (no pun intended).

Individualism as a central tenet and the risk to progressive reform

Individualism permeating as a result of seats won, is also a testament to the rise of Individualism in Australia. Individualism is a central tenet of Liberalism, liberal-conservativism, libertarianism, neo-conservatism and right-wing populism and even to an extent, the populist-centrists that are currently making up the majority of parliamentarians and senators as the result of the democratic vote that was cast at our recent election.

The successful reforms of the two party system, are all underpinned by collectivism/socialism and utilitarianism. That is where the greater needs of society, the protection and security of society, the moral good of society as the outcome, outweighs the desires or freedoms of the individual.

With the rise of individualism, there is a risk of all of our existing progressive reforms being weakened or even destroyed. The underpinning construct of individualism is that everyone is born equal and everyone has the same opportunities in life. Essentially, your life is what you make of it. Your individual rights are more important than the needs of society as a whole; even if this means to the detriment of large groups of people in society (ie no taxes to pay for another person’s health care, but rather a user pays system).

This is why the Liberal party see going without any Newstart payments for six months as an incentive and not a punishment. They see the individual as inherently lazy. They use this to stigmatise the individual, to cut payments even further, or to push an even more punitive agenda on the unemployed.

They do not see it that as a Government, they have failed to provide enough employment for everyone. They believe that the free market will just sort it out and everyone has the same opportunity to ‘make a go of it.’ We saw this with Turnbull’s push for everyone to aspire to be an innovative entrepreneur rather than a common worker. If you can’t get a job – just go and create an app you lazy bastard!

Individualists and free-marketeers such as Turnbull do not value the security, protection and harmony that collective or socialist welfare measures bring the nation as a whole. Instead, they see it as the dragging down of society, where the haves need to prop up the have-nots.

Individualism values the freedom of the individual over the harmony and security of a group as a whole. The danger of this ideology, is it has the power to destroy the very fabric of everything that has shaped our society over a long period of time and everything we are still yet trying to achieve.

Our awards and collective bargaining system, our superannuation system, our right to welfare (although needs huge improvements!) the NDIS, Gonski and even national infrastructure such as the NBN to name a few.

We saw individualism peak at its boldest during the Howard years. With its ugly head raised under Work Choices, workers had no choices. Funding for Universities were tied to the abolishment of collective agreements and Howard tried his hardest to use his authority to force Individual agreements on employees in this sector.

Individualism with its ugly head raised, allowed any worker to be sacked for any reason, with no recourse. Individualism with its ugly head raised allowed the more highly ranked workers adept and confident to bargain for a decent individual wage, with unskilled workers with low self-effacy in individual wage bargaining, left with the scraps and told to take it or leave it. Most employees had protection measures stripped, annual leave loading abolished, penalty rates removed and gazetted public holidays removed and some had every single protection measure removed.

For those who want to fight against a rise of Individualism and its ugly head being raised again, the question is “How do we as a collective create a more powerful message that individualism is damaging to our society, before many who are advocating the return of individualism learn the hard way how ugly it really is, along with a second bout for the rest of us?”

The agenda setting of the media makes pushing this narrative even harder. We should also note the power of the media, including the National Broadcaster, in setting an agenda to undermine our nation’s socialist based health care system. They used their innate power by reiterating and reinforcing the political terminology of the right “Mediscare.”

The right used Mediscare, to divert voters away from their intention to weaken and destroy Medicare as a classic Joh Bjelke Petersen “Don’t you worry about that” moment.

The power of the media in this instance was used to reinforce the notion of Individualism and that it is not important for us to stand together as a collective and fight to ensure that all Australians have access to healthcare. In fact, many respected and powerful journalists actually tittered and giggled when communicating to voters the word “Mediscare.” Because you know, socialist healthcare and people being more vulnerable to late diagnosis and death is a bit of a joke.

I hope if a young person does not have the money to access health care and is diagnosed with cervical cancer too late; these journalists will have the decency to wipe the smirk off their faces, when reporting on such stories that will occur now in our future.

Narrative shapes society and I am definitely not a fan of the narrative I see playing out, at this present point in time. When narrative is put to music, it turns into songs and lyrics. I see the election and the post election music as a mash-up of these two songs.

Lean on me, when you’re not strong (I’m an Individual)
And I’ll be your friend (You can’t fool me)
I’ll help you carry on (an Indi-bloody-vidual)
For it won’t be long (You can’t fool me)
‘Til I’m gonna need (A genuine original)
Somebody to lean on (You can’t fool me)

The question is, if both songs were on your playlist – which one would you turn up?

Originally published on Polyfeministix

 

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What’s in it for ME? Society’s dilemma

what-e1426943260530Managing change is part of my day job. One of the catch phrases we use these days is “what’s in it for me”. In “selling” change in an organisation we need to show the employees, the board, the management and all other stakeholders “what’s in it for them”. If you don’t believe me, Google “change management what’s in it for me” and you will see plenty of results.

Rhiannon’s masterclass, ‘What’s in it for me?’ … and other change management challenges demonstrated how addressing the people side of change management can increase the probability of business success during periods of significant change. Source: CMC Partnership

What ever happened to what’s in it for you is you get paid and we all keep our jobs? Or what is in it for you is we will engage your firm as a preferred supplier? That might sound a bit harsh, but I’m not looking at industrial or commercial relations here, I’m looking at the me, me, me mentality of much of society. Western society at least. I always love the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems on Twitter. Provides quite a giggle a lot of the time. I often think “what’s in it for me” is distinctly a first world issue, if not a looming problem.

If we only ever do anything because of what is in it for ourselves, don’t we risk becoming a very selfish society? I have no doubt, from my own practical experience, that introducing change into the workplace is more successful if the people involved can see a personal benefit. I am no different when I am asked to change. My immediate question is “While this make my life easier or harder?” If I think the change will make my life harder, my natural inclination will be to resist the change, covertly or overtly, unless I can see a greater good for all in the change.

I’ve talked before about the differences between societies of collectivism and societies of individualism. Western societies are almost exclusively societies of individualism. I considered such individualism in a look at the feminists’ debate.

Geert Hofstede describes these cultural dimensions rather well.

The high side of this dimension, called individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. Its opposite, collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.” Source: geert-hofstede.com

There is research that indicates a culture of individualism leads to high growth and more progress because societies of collectivism can be assessed as anti-innovation. I stress this is one perspective, one I perceive as rather negative. Other studies present a more caring, positive picture of collectivism.

Platteau (2000) for example illustrates collective culture in the context of African development. Specifically, he documents that productive individuals are seen with suspicion and are coaxed into sharing their surplus with the community. Collective punishments exist to penalize the rich. They take the form of social ostracism, loss of status, or even violence. Communities have for example frequently used accusations of witchcraft to punish greed and acquisitiveness as well as aspirations to move to other places. Behind these punishments is the fear that the community’s cohesiveness will be undermined and that an individual who proves more successful will leave the village or will not redistribute any surplus food or production. Source: Berkeley

However, individualism gave us the Global Financial Crisis.

If you’ve been blaming reckless men for the collapse of America’s leading investment houses and the plunging markets, you may be on to something. High levels of testosterone are correlated with riskier financial behavior, new research suggests. Source: Scientific American

In a society of collectivism, this individualistic behaviour would have been curbed by the cultural norms.

I am a very firm believer in the rights of the individual. I started writing because I was denied my individual rights. I married a man from a culture of collectivism. In many respects, I live both cultures. I think there are aspects of both that humans need for survival as a species.

Collectivism worked very well in hunter-gatherer days. Collectivism ensures the elderly are cared for. Individualism gives us…..more money? Individualism gives us innovation and progress that we may or may not need as a species, but it also gives us personal greed. It gives us “what’s in it for ME”.

Gary Stamper says:

Collectivism, as a system has many faults, but individualism, which isn’t even a system, but rather the lack of a system, also has many faults. Each, by themselves are partial. The new collectivism, championed by the political left, has emerged as a response to the unbridled individualism of the political right. Source: Collapsing into Consciousness

Gary quotes Gerhard Adam:

“True individualism is not common and in our society is typically marked as being a sociopath. This is an individual for whom no social connections matter, and there is little ability to empathize with fellow humans.”

Perhaps Gary is correct, the long term solution lies in the concept of “individual collectivism”.

Individual collectivism understands that individuals need to be recognized and acknowledged within the larger social group. In our culture, it is a rare person who is able – or even wants – to act outside some sort of collective, whether its a policeman or fireman, an employee or a business owner, a sports or corporate team, a local or national culture, a religion or spiritual calling, or a political leaning, or a politician. Even as individuals, we seek like-minded people to associate with, to support and be supported, to share common goals. It is our nature.

And while we claim to abhor “collectives,” we automatically join them, leaving the impression that it’s not really about collectives at all, but rather, the freedom to choose which collective we participate in rather than our objections about collectivism. This doesn’t deny our personal identities or rob us of the choices we make regarding our participation in a collective. Source: Collapsing into Consciousness

Both individualism and collectivism have faults. Both have served a purpose at different stages of human development. Do we need something new? It is at least worth considering.

Looking back to my opening employment related situation, “What’s in it for me” only has worth providing we also consider what’s in it for the organisation that keeps us employed. For without the organisation there is no “what” for me at all. If our social fabric collapses like the global markets did, we will have nothing.

There is nothing so constant in this world as change. Perhaps this is one we need.

This is an edited version of the article originally published on Robyn’s blog.

 

The government that doesn’t want to govern

On 1 October, the Affordable Health Care Act comes into force in the United States. It has split the US down the middle – by some polls, over half of the population hates the Act. Detractors call it “Obamacare” as if to identify it with a single person is to devalue the raft of policy and the nation-changing effects it will have. Republicans, quite simply, hate it outright.

I recently requested clarification from a right-wing, evangelical Christian blog as to why, if the Act is of so much benefit to the poor and downtrodden of America, the right oppose it.

I received in response a bullet list of seven reasons “Obamacare” is a disaster for America. Of these seven objections, one is a moral statement: the argument that some aspects of the law don’t suit all people, but will apply to all people. The argument was made that funding for abortions may be made available through the Act. This is highly arguable, at least in the law as enacted, but fair enough; this seems like a valid objection.

It is entirely legitimate to oppose legislation on the basis of disagreement with the moral outcomes. Two of the objections question the effectiveness of the legislation. Similar to the Australian Coalition flatly stating that Labor, even when in possession of a good idea, cannot turn it into effective action, opponents of the AHCA point to other countries with national healthcare systems and claim that they’re not perfect.

They argue that such systems will be open to abuse, rorting and fraud. You could argue that all systems are open to abuse, rorting and fraud and that this is a good reason to refine the legislation to progressively remove these opportunities; however, it’s not an entirely invalid objection.

And three of the objections boil down to the basic assertion: “We can’t afford it”. The policy will cost the US government, and thus the taxpayer. The US is already debt-ridden. The government ought to concentrate on paying down debt before engaging in further expenditure. Fair enough. That does seem a valid, and eerily familiar, objection. Except…

“We can’t afford it” has become a catch-cry of conservatives the world over. The Affordable Healthcare Act? Can’t afford it. National Broadband Network? Can’t afford it. Public servants? Can’t afford them. Social support and welfare? Can’t afford them.

Government is a case of competing priorities. All governments work within limitations of resources, in terms of finance and political goodwill and legislative time and personnel; every potential advance in society which government needs to enact comes at the expense of other needs. To evaluate whether “can’t afford it” is ever a valid objection to policy advances, let us take a step back and examine what it is that we have a government for.

The human species is gregarious by nature. Since the formation of the first agrarian communities, we have instituted some kind of authority structure. All governments throughout history have entailed a personage, or group of personages, to which the people voluntarily surrender power and authority. The people sacrifice their autonomy, their time, and their taxes, for the sake of the benefit of the whole.

For many centuries, the fundamental purpose of government was law and order, and peace/protection from invasion. In other words, government’s areas of responsibility went no further than setting the legislature and maintaining a standing army which, in addition to its function of protecting the people against hostility from outside, also enforced the law.

Some empires also dabbled in infrastructure. The ancient empire of Rome is famous for its network of roads; after the fall of the Roman empire, significant expenditure on roads would not be seen again in Europe until the 1800s. Rome also built aqueducts to service its wealthy citizens. The Roman empire was centuries ahead of its time, but in modern society, we expect governments to spend some resources on infrastructure. Roads, water, sewerage, power, telecommunications – these things that modern society relies upon are part of the bread and butter of modern government.

Governments of old, however progressive in their approach to infrastructure and law and defense, had no interest in some of the areas we currently consider to be expected parts of civilisation. Rome implemented a “corn dole” for citizens too poor to buy food; the Song dynasty in China (circa 1000 AD) managed a range of progressive welfare programs. Apart from a few stand-out examples such as these, however, social support was nonexistent.

Modern-day welfare came into being in the 19th and 20th centuries. We now consider a certain level of unemployment benefit, disability benefit, aged care benefit, etc. to be a reasonable imposition on society. Before the 1900s, the unemployed and the aged (and unmarried women) were the responsibility of their families, not of society as a whole.

It wasn’t until the 1700s that history saw the first public, secular hospitals being created. Prior to this, health care would have been taken care of by organisations other than government; primarily, in Europe, by the Church and the monasteries. Education is a similar story. Before the emergence of universal education for the populace – as early as the 1700s in some parts of Europe, but not widespread until the 19th century AD – education was reserved for the elite and provided by the churches.

It is important to note that for all of this time, the churches and other bodies responsible for providing these services – education, health care, welfare – were accepted and fundamental parts of society, and society contributed to them regularly and generously. Everybody gave alms to the churches. The monasteries were at the center of landholdings in their own rights and levied taxes upon their surrounds. In a way, these organisations were analogous to government – they received support from society as a whole, and in return, they provided certain necessary services.

In the modern world, the social bodies that would have been responsible for education and healthcare are declining or have died. Catholic schools and hospitals still exist, but not to the extent required to support our population. For the past 200 years governments have taken on these responsibilities, as the world gave way to secular sympathies, and governments took on these responsibilities as key determinants of national progress and success. A healthy, educated populace was the key to national prosperity.

Which brings us to the present. In 2013 we have conservative groups and political parties wanting the government to get out of the way while the market takes care of these things. On infrastructure – for example, the NBN – let it be driven by market forces. Environmental action, likewise: rather than a carbon tax operated by the government, a “direct action” policy will find the emissions abatements efforts that already exist and support them, rather than mandating change from the outside.

We have Republicans and Liberals wanting the government to get out of the business of mandating healthcare because it ought to be driven by market forces. We have governments of all persuasions pursuing privatisation and outsourcing of previously fundamental responsibilities in the name of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. And we have governments preferring to return the community its taxes in the form of tax cuts (to individuals; to business) and infrastructure spending. All of this comes with a wave of the hand and a “we can’t afford [whatever]”.

But can the government really abrogate its responsibilities in these areas? Without other bodies or structures to take on these responsibilities, it’s not ethical to stop providing them. So can the free market be relied upon to do this?

Money to pay for education, fire services, health, broadband, has to come from somewhere. The social structures – primarily church – which previously might have supported these things no longer have the resources or the popular support to be able to take up the slack. Charities around the country are crying out for support and berating the government for not providing enough basic resources/support; something has to give. In this environment, the idea of “small government” doesn’t make sense.

The government has to be big enough to do the things that the monasteries aren’t around to do anymore.

The Republican right in the US and the Lib-Nats in Australia run on a platform of “individual empowerment”. With the exception of a few big-ticket items, where they have specific, active policies – policies towards boat people come to mind – the Coalition’s ideology is to get out of the way, reduce government’s interference in society, reduce the tax burden on individuals and corporations, and let the free market have its way. It believes that everyone will benefit if there are lower taxes and more money moving.

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Even in some fictional world where successful humans were altruistic enough to plough their profits back into providing more employment and more productivity, rather than squirreling away the proceeds as profit, we still need these other functions to happen.

And these other functions – hospitals, schools, heavy rail, telecommunications infrastructure – don’t happen at the behest of successful capitalists. They happen because the community needs them and the community as a whole will pay for them.

Individualism is what you have when you don’t have strong governments. Individual empowerment is what you get when the strong ride roughshod over the weak.

Now we seem to be on the verge of voting in a Coalition government which will be forced to cut back on all sorts of areas of service provision and expenditure if it is to meet its overriding goal of bringing the budget back to surplus.

A government whose budget figures and estimates we’ve not been allowed to see, which is promising to repeal several sources of revenue and increase expenditure in several areas, whilst not increasing taxes. Something has to give. It seems certain that “We can’t afford it” will come into force after the election in a big way.

“We can’t afford that” is never a valid excuse. That’s what government is for: to find a way to be able to afford the basic things we need our government for. If that involves raising taxes in an equitable manner, then that’s what you do – it’s exactly why we pay taxes in the first place.

If it involves an imposition on businesses to achieve an end that the community desires – for example, a carbon tax – then that is why we have a government. The whole purpose of government is to place impositions on the strong to benefit the weak and to regulate the individual to offer benefits to the whole.

A government that doesn’t want to do these things is not governing.

A government that doesn’t want to provide these things is a government that doesn’t want to govern.

 

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