Thursday, 18 September 2014

An individualist basis for society

Methodological individualism and society
 
People who understand economics have a half decent idea of how the human brain works, it doesn't tell you everything by any means but you get some basics.

One of the basics that lots of economists accept is that we all act in our own self-interest. Its fairly hard to deny.
This doesn't mean that we are all always selfish, it means we act to achieve ends that we have decided are worth pursuing. Since only we, ourselves can send signals from our brains to our bodies to make them act some level of methodological individualism is clearly necessary to understand society. In fact quite a high level when you appreciate that every human action and decision is ultimately undertaken on a purely individual basis.

But methodological individualism alone does not sufficiently explain the way the world is or the way it could be if it was better. It doesn't give any credibility to the notion that society has any meaning at all.
This isn't right.


Aristotle put forth the idea that some things are worth more than the sum of their parts. An example could be like how all the parts of a car put together in the right way are worth more than them all scattered around on the floor. Society is the same but where exactly do we find the source of the added value?

The answer is relationships (not just romantic relationships, all relationships). You can think of your relationship with anyone else and it isn't hard to conceive of it as something separate from the parties involved, something which has a certain vitality of its own. Relationships require effort to maintain and they can be healthy and unhealthy.
Relationships add value, it is there that we find sufficient reason to think of society as a network, something that has life, that can be healthy or unhealthy, something more than just a name for multiple individuals, society is the sum of its parts + their relationships with each other. Relationships can be exchange based economic ones and they can be purely social ones or they can be a mixture of the two. Relationships can be peaceful and voluntarily entered into, or they can be based on force or threat of force. Relationships can be equal, or they can be based on hierarchy and power imbalance. But summed up they are what makes society more than the sum of its parts.
 
Anarchism and society
 
If we imagine someone who is completely self sufficient for their needs and chooses to avoid contact with others it would be accurate enough to say that they live in a default state of anarchy. Accurate, but pointless though. It's not even worth pointing out that someone who is entirely alone is not subject to violence and hierarchy!

Anarchism that is worth talking about happens in society, not in individuals alone because it is about achieving right relationships with others. Peaceful, voluntary, equal relationships, achieving liberation for society and individuals together. In anarchism relationships which are violent, forced or unequal must adapt or end.

I suggest that we need to stop primarily seeing other individuals as the limits to our freedom and begin to see them as the potential extension of our freedom. A new positive anarchism is going to make gains, convince new people, find solutions and seriously start building the new society within the shell of the old.

I give this theological significance.