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Author Topic: The age of selfishness
rasmus
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posted 09 October 2002 12:18 AM      Profile for rasmus   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I left for Hong Kong in late 1998, returning just over a year ago. It was the first time I had ever spent a chunk of time outside Britain. I recommend it. You will never see your own country in the same light again, especially if you choose to live outside the west. You will realise that "our world" is a small and declining fraction of humanity, a fact that we are largely unaware of in our post-imperial hubris. I had left these shores with a feeling of unease. Far from sharing the widespread euphoria for New Labour, I was deeply troubled by what seemed to me to be its transparent vacuity, its devotion to hyperbole rather than substance. My disquiet about my country, though, was not confined to the Blair "project": it also had something to do with the state of the culture, with the rise of celebrity, the coarsening of tone, a loss of meaning, though I found it difficult to give expression to these thoughts.


[...]

Over the last decade or so, there has been a general trend in western societies towards mass populism, "rabble" democracy, and a "consumer is king" cultural mentality. Many programmes on television reflect this, from Big Brother to Jerry Springer, as does the rise of politicians like Silvio Berlusconi who, more than any other political figure, epitomises the new culture.

The roots of much of this lie, not least, in the extent to which the market has become all-pervasive. The ubiquity of market values came as quite a shock to me after nearly three years away: when you live with it all the time, somehow you become unaware of the extent to which it is progressively invading the culture. The market mentality has moved well beyond the original areas of contestation into health, education, old age, culture, relationships, morality, personal behaviour and childhood. The market as the measure of all worth is visibly on the march, seeping into every pore of society.

Market hegemony, however, is not the only reason for the trend towards individualism. It is also a consequence of a seemingly unstoppable movement towards personal freedom. In any trade-off between the social good and personal freedom, the latter has progressively won out. The old rules and boundaries marking personal behaviour have been eroded, sometimes even dissolved. Rules are to be made and remade, there are no absolutes.

[...]

I must admit that I now view the balance between social good and personal freedom differently from before I left England. Broadly speaking, while appreciating the downside, I still felt that the trend was positive. Now I hold a different view. The combination of marketisation and unrestrained individualism are profoundly corrosive and are undermining the social ties that bind us together.



The age of selfishness

I corroborate the observations made by Jacques. When I returned from India after 4.5 years, it was with completely new eyes. Actually, that was a major experience of politicization for me.

[ October 09, 2002: Message edited by: rasmus_raven ]


From: Fortune favours the bold | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 09 October 2002 01:42 AM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Sometimes people who've never travelled beyond a nation's borders can be just as keen at seeing the problems faced in the industrialized nations as they relentlessly pursue the idea of I me my mine and screw the rest of the world with no thought for the consequences.

I also note that a lot of travellers to other countries don't always gain any appreciation of what the West is doing to itself and to the rest of the world - I submit Gordon Campbell is a perfect example of someone who has not gained a whit of compassion for anybody but his Howe Street buddies for all that he's been in Africa.

The problem is that people are inherently lazy. And it's easy to appeal to peoples' inner lazy fool by appealing to the selfish side of someone. It takes work to be generous. It takes no effort to just grab for something and take it with no thought for who you took it from.

Even people who aren't inherently mean-spirited towards poor people probably feel less and less able to fight against the tide and atomize as time goes by. "Activist burn-out" is a symptom of this.


From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
bittersweet
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posted 09 October 2002 05:21 AM      Profile for bittersweet     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
In any trade-off between the social good and personal freedom, the latter has progressively won out.

I notice that product branding increasingly, and directly, confuses personal freedom, consumption, and social good. The other day I saw a billboard for Diesel jeans, which seemed to associate the shirtless, rebellious (homeless?) youths in the photo--well, their jeans really--with a nebulous activism.

I've had a gut feeling lately, that everything in this gilded hemisphere seems so slight. That the "developed" world I live in and take for granted may in fact be a house of cards. (Well duh, you say--of course it is. But what we know intellectually isn't as disquieting as facing up to what we know in our hearts). I don't mean this arena is only an economic house of cards, one supported by the undeveloped world. I mean that whatever this is--I guess the word is "society"--feels ever more spiritually bankrupt. I used to be able to filter out that sensation. Now it's not so easy. Maybe if I bought a pair of Diesel jeans and became a (ahem) self-styled activist I'd feel all better.


From: land of the midnight lotus | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
Eauz
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posted 09 October 2002 03:19 PM      Profile for Eauz   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Although I had spent it in Belgium which is going with the "Western" Flow, I had a change of characteristic in myself, when I was over there. I spent a year as an exchange student, and I learned a lot about myself, and how much I used to not care about any other countries but USA and Canada. Once I was over there, I learned about countries I've never hear of, and I just got a totally different feeling of change there as to here in North America. I guess us North Americans have never felt that change because (a)Our Countries are Extreamly Large (b)If you were to drive like for a couple hours in Belgium going any direction, you would end up in another country (France, Luxembourg, Neatherlands, Germany) But if we do that here in North America, we just end up in the same province (unless PEI ) and they pretty much speek the same language as you. And World Affairs are more important to them than to us. Sure 9/11 happend, but it seems the USA rather than figure out the problem, they just resolved it with Bombs. Like they always do. I also, found myself buying less brand products like Nike and other companys, and going with the more "no logo" clothing...etc... But, having taken that Exchange program last year, learned 2 things, How to speek French, and How ignorant North America is to the World.
From: New Brunswick, Canada | Registered: Sep 2002  |  IP: Logged
lagatta
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posted 09 October 2002 03:30 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
As a woman, I find the comments made by Martin Jacques, supposedly a Marxist, deeply disturbing. He rightly skewers the individualism and disposibility of relationships in Western societies, but harkens back to a reactionary utopia in which biological family relationships are more important than chosen, elective ones. I feel far more drawn to people with whom I have a shared history of political action and intellectual commonality than the folks I encountered at a family reunion a couple of years ago, with whom I could share nothing but meaningless pleasantries and certainly not talk about the real priorities in my life - transforming society and "changing life", in the words of Marx and Rimbaud, as quoted by the Surrealists.

Many people have emigrated from traditional societies, not only to the First world but to the burgeoning cities of the South, to flee starvation and hopelessness, of course, but often also to escape the stranglehold of traditional social relationships.


From: Se non ora, quando? | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
Trespasser
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posted 09 October 2002 06:36 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I couldn't agree more with you, lagatta. I don't like this passage either:

quote:
The most dramatic expression of the erosion of social ties and the emphasis on the present and self-gratification is the attitude towards children. The birth rate has been steadily falling and is now below 1.7, far short of the level at which a society naturally replenishes itself. Declining societies are those that cannot reproduce their own populations. The future is sacrificed for the present. Mothers are having children at an ever-later age. More women are choosing not to have children. More mothers are electing to carry on working after they have given birth: and there is no sign that fathers are compensating for this by deciding not to work, or work less. The result is that parenting time has declined significantly, and society en masse now pays others to care for their children. The human cost of this failure to give parenting its due priority lies sometime in the future, in the impoverishment of human relationships, the decline of intimacy, behavioural problems and the like.

From: maritimes | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 09 October 2002 07:17 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It's true that people are having fewer children, having them later, and working longer hours. But it's astonishing to read a supposed Marxist ascribe this to some kind of epidemic of 'selfishness.'
From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
rasmus
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posted 09 October 2002 11:31 PM      Profile for rasmus   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I don't agree with everything in this essay, but I do agree with much. I will write what I think is a generous interpretation, but not for a couple of days. At least that will represent MY point of view. On the last point, I've always thought there were very few ways one could desire children that were not in principle selfish, so I certainly don't agree with what he is saying here, narrowly interpreted. But there are broader issues to consider, and that's what I'll have to get into later.
From: Fortune favours the bold | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
rasmus
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posted 09 October 2002 11:41 PM      Profile for rasmus   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What I mean is, I think he is struggling to articulate some insights that I also struggled with for a long time after returning from India. It took me a while to figure out what I was trying to say. I don't think he is there yet, but he is grasping at something I think I might be able to say more clearly and less controversially, perhaps. But I will need the space to focus my thoughts on that first.
From: Fortune favours the bold | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Debra
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posted 10 October 2002 08:55 AM      Profile for Debra   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think it's funny that many who do not want children say those that do are selfish and vice versa.

Point of fact we are all selfish.

For those of us who eat meat we are selfishly interfering with another beings right to exist.

Vegetarians and vegans are selfishly interfering with a plants right to exist (the are after all living beings too).

We are by nature selfish in order to survive.

I do think that there are some consequences to society becoming too anti child as it were, because children require us to prepare for and care about the future.

In many native traditions any major decision required thinking about how it would affect the next seven generations. I think we could use some of that.


From: The only difference between graffiti & philosophy is the word fuck... | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
WingNut
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posted 10 October 2002 09:19 AM      Profile for WingNut   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I am not sure I see in that paragraph what Trespasser sees. I recognize an observation but not neccessarily a judgement. This argument of declining social values in the west has been put forward also by Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone in which he puts forward his theory of declining social capital through the metaphor of bowling.

I agree with earthmother that all our decisons are based, at least in part, on selfishness. But I think the writer is making the argument that selfishness has become the defining factor of western society. I believe that is the essence of the argument in Linda McQuaig's last book, too.


From: Out There | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
angela N
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posted 10 October 2002 05:48 PM      Profile for angela N   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
We can not talk about declining social values in a society that has such cultural variance. Common values are dependent on cultural conformity.

For those of you who have travelled a bit, it is easy to see what it is that we are missing here in NA, there is a lack of culture that is a natural result of having no common heritage, itís the reason that we find it so easy to move around and pick and choose friends, buy and sell our homes - live in different communities, have a distant (if any) connection to family. We can reinvent ourselves at random. All this will result in a feeling of non-connectedness.

We are a nation of immigrants(save First Nations), we can potentially have no common bond with our neighbour be it, language, custom, religion, politics, ethics, race. (This is also what makes us so bloody polite - simply placing your hand in a particular place could be a grave offense to a specific culture - the same gesture could be a sign of romantic interest in another)

However, itís also the reason that we are so progressive, open-minded, tolerant, likely to intermarry, aware of cross cultural differences, and capable of looking at those differences with interest and curiosity where other, more homogeneous groups are more likely to see the differences with skepticism fear and intolerance.

We can not have it both ways.


From: The city of Townsville | Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 10 October 2002 06:57 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
We can not talk about declining social values in a society that has such cultural variance. Common values are dependent on cultural conformity.

I think you're right. It may be that Martin Jacques is bemoaning the loss of a Britain that hasn't really existed in twenty or thirty years, if it ever did.

quote:
For those of you who have travelled a bit, it is easy to see what it is that we are missing here in NA, there is a lack of culture that is a natural result of having no common heritage,

But this, I think, doesn't necessarily follow at all. I don't know what it could mean to say that any society has a "lack of culture." Lack of cultural homogeneity is not the same thing at all.

quote:
However, it’s also the reason that we are so progressive, open-minded, tolerant, likely to intermarry, aware of cross cultural differences, and capable of looking at those differences with interest and curiosity where other, more homogeneous groups are more likely to see the differences with skepticism fear and intolerance.

I suppose the rate of intermarriage is increasing in North America, and perhaps people are less alarmed about ethnic diversity than in other societies. But to a large extent, I find such blanket statements more self-congratulatory than meaningfully descriptive. As Pico Iyer says, just a few miles outside the wonderfully multicultural Toronto, say, are communities where a non-white face is scarcely to be seen, and where more people than will admit to it like that state of affairs just fine.


From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
WingNut
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posted 10 October 2002 07:08 PM      Profile for WingNut   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I disagree entirely. Canada has always been a nation of immigrants. But we have also had neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods reflecting many cultures where everyone knew everyone and helped each other out. We would check to see if old Mrs. Wilson needed her lawn cut or groceries or keep an eye on litte Tony out late again.

This is the connectedness that is missing. This is the connected we were warned we would lose when we made the streets to wide to stroll along and windows shop, when we closed the neighbourhood libraries and post offices, when we drove the local merchants out of business in favour of malls and parking lots.

We do not know our neighbours. We do not know each other. Pink Floyd asked did they get you to trade cold comfort for change. We did far worse. We traded community for markets and we gave up being citizens to become consumers.


From: Out There | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 10 October 2002 07:23 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
WingNut, I love you.
From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Debra
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posted 10 October 2002 07:27 PM      Profile for Debra   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Wingnut that is both powerfully beautiful and totally sad.
From: The only difference between graffiti & philosophy is the word fuck... | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
angela N
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posted 10 October 2002 09:38 PM      Profile for angela N   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
But this, I think, doesn't necessarily follow at all. I don't know what it could mean to say that any society has a "lack of culture." Lack
of cultural homogeneity is not the same thing at all.

Lack of culture, Lack of cultural homogeneity...please explain the difference when we are speaking of the 'national culture".

quote:
I suppose the rate of intermarriage is increasing in North America, and perhaps people are less alarmed about ethnic diversity than in other societies. But to a large extent, I find such blanket statements more self-congratulatory than meaningfully descriptive.

So you agree (you suppose), but will not trouble yourself to explain. You will however, take the time to insult me, how nice.


From: The city of Townsville | Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 10 October 2002 11:09 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
So you agree (you suppose), but will not trouble yourself to explain. You will however, take the time to insult me, how nice.

I agree to a limited extent with some specific parts of what you said. But as I see it, such sweeping generalizations as

quote:
we are so progressive, open-minded, tolerant, likely to intermarry, aware of cross cultural differences, and capable of looking at those differences with interest and curiosity where other, more homogeneous groups are more likely to see the differences with skepticism fear and intolerance.

are commonplaces in North America, particularly in Canada. And yes, I do see them as self-congratulatory (that is, collectively so) and with far less foundation than most people who make them suppose. They gloss over, albeit unintentionally, a lot of ugly realities, both historical and contemporary.

I had no intention whatsoever of insulting you; nor, as I see it, does criticizing what someone says amount to insulting them. But if you see it differently, fair enough; there's probably very little more I can or should say.


From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged

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