On individualism and Entitlement.
Of all the inter-linked strands of pro-capitalist ideology, the stress on human individuality and entitlement within it, are perhaps the most cancerous to life on the planet. The first, (individualism) is only possible because the division of labour within human societies has become so intensive and widespread that it can appear – in the absence of continued family life – we are mostly on our own. Yet the feeling of being alone – even in a crowd – contradicts the fact that 20th and 21st century humanity has never been more interconnected.
The second, (entitlement) is only possible because the capitalists in control of the mode of production have turned production into mass-production and in order to maximise profits – have encouraged mass-consumption as a ‘normal’ phenomenon. Not only essentials but non-essentials were continually added to the items of consumption potentially available to us. When immediate funds were not to hand, numerous systems of credit were invented to keep the mass production ‘merry-go-round’ moving. Easy money and credit have encouraged an insatiable appetite for consumption to enter human consciousness as ‘entitlement’.
Correcting Individualistic nonsense.
Although our bodies are individually wrapped in a breathable, waterproof membrane, and our umbilical chords are severed at birth, our dependence on our species (and other species) continues. Our internal organs are staffed by billions of donated micro-organisms without which we could not survive. The same goes for our skin, which is in continual contact with micro-biotic life-forms swarming in the atmosphere. So even at the level of a newly born baby, we are not alone, nor are we ever an independently viable entity.
Apart from our billion-strong microbiological internal support structure, parents and medical staff, at birth we are immediately dependent, (and remain so until death) on thousands of other human beings for food, water, clothing and shelter. Our future thoughts, skills, preferences and even prejudices will depend upon the input of hundreds, if not thousands of other human beings, contributing to the language, skills and general culture within which we exist.
Even those who have reached the highest points possible in their chosen careers, clearly did not get there on their own. They were taught by many other human beings and, as mentioned above, many others continued to grow their food, make their clothes, remove their garbage, keep their lights on, make the tools they used, keep the transport system moving, etc., freeing them to practice the thousands of hours needed to become expert. Even at their pinnacle, the talented few rely absolutely upon an audience of thousands of us to understand and appreciate their socially acquired expertise.
So reality, rather than individualist ideology, reveals that we are all social beings and that we all depend upon each other – even those we never see or ever meet. No matter how highly we hone our ‘socially acquired’ skills our dependence on a wider community also increases. Recognising this interdependent reality should caution against the pro-capitalist assumption that those millions (seen or unseen) upon which we rely should get less than they need, whilst the privileged few get far more than they need.
The industrial revolution, powered by fossil fuels, created the possibility of mass production. As noted, mass production required mass consumption and this was stimulated by various means. Capitalists soon felt entitled to increase their wealth by fair means or foul. Foreign conquests and imperial control of land and resources followed. Pro-capitalist governing elites considered themselves entitled to a share of the international wealth extraction in the form of high salaries and pensions.
A proportion of this global wealth extraction filtered down to the middle-classes of the countries associated with the capitalist mode of production. They too began to feel entitled to a ever larger share of what was continually extracted from across the planet. In the the most advanced capitalist countries, working people eventually managed to get hold of a proportion of the global wealth created. They too felt individually entitled to what it could yield – and it yielded plenty. Cars, houses, televisions, foreign holidays, etc., for workers; yachts, limousine’s and second homes, etc., for middle-classes; vast estates, mansions, private aircraft and entire islands, etc., for capitalist elites.
Practically every individual felt entitled to get what they could and to try to get more by whatever legal or illegal means they could. Many even felt entitled to lie, cheat, steal and rob to augment the number and quality of their mass-produced possessions. After 1950, in particular, the ideology of entitlement managed spread across all classes. It is now so entrenched that most individuals still turn a blind eye to the negative effects, experienced by the rest of global humanity. Eyes were frequently averted from the brutal exploitation of foreign workers, or the enslavement and dispossession of native people’s. The first-world entitlement obsessed were also wilfully blind to the increasing pollution on land, sea and air created by mass-production and mass-consumption.
Entitlement ideology is so firmly entrenched in western contemporary thinking and practices, that few can bring themselves to contemplate what is necessary to halt our descent into multi-species oblivion. Quickly abolishing petrol and diesel powered cars, vans, trucks, tractors, trains, ships and aircraft for – travel, industrial production, sport and recreation – might just halt and eventually reverse, the damage already done to the planet. But that’s not going to happen – is it? Too many vested interests and entitlement minded individuals stand in the way of even halving such damaging transport.
Just how little the elite, the middle-classes and the moderately paid working classes are prepared to do without is demonstrated by the paltry reforms advocated by the few ‘green-minded’ activists and the resistance to these reforms by politicians and industry leaders. Large-scale entitlement addiction and indifference will ensure that little ‘damage reversing’ will be done. Insufficiently challenged individualism and entitlement will ensure that future generations’ lives (including our sons, daughters and grandchildren) will be exceedingly difficult, if not increasingly impossible.
Roy Ratcliffe (January 2020)