A Change So Small But It Feels Like Paradise, Composing, 02/02/2016

Sometimes, my girlfriend, friends, and I will comment to each other that no one ever seems to talk to anyone anymore. This sounds like a stereotype of nostalgia (“Well, back in my day . . . !”), but I feel confident saying we’re in a cultural moment where people feel isolated from each other.

When our generation's art openly reflects the tenor of the
time, it describes the destructive power of an egotistical
individualist run rampant.
Like community links are fragile, fraying, being torn apart by social, political, and economic forces. More than this, I feel as though there are ideological factors as well. Individualism has become such an ever-present idea in our society, that it defines even our ethics.

I see this notion throughout the business world, especially now that I work in marketing and business communications for my income now. Management philosophies are designed around putting workers in competition with each other, to push each one to the highest performance for the sake of their career’s survival.

The career guide for women to succeed in business is about training yourself never to need to rely on anyone to help you. Reliance on others has become a form of surrender. If you make yourself vulnerable to someone, we tend to believe and are taught that this will expose you to sabotage.

I talked yesterday about some of the benefits of the new liberalism: how it liberated us from oppressive bureaucracies, how it offered us a moral framework that validated non-conformity and anti-authoritarian attitudes. 

In that way, neoliberalism was more democratic than the disciplinary political norms that existed even in the enlightened welfare state. But the new individualism has left us with even more intractable problems. 

I've usually talked about Donald Trump in this context,
but to "celebrate" his win of the Republican Iowa
caucuses last night, I'll mention Ted Cruz. Cruz has,
through his own route, built his career channelling
people's resentment, hatred, and fear into a politics
whose principles and movement engines openly
deride sympathy and empathy for different people
from yourself as both dangerous and repugnant.
Yesterday, I mentioned how individualist moralities of business leave many of us open to employment exploitation. Their social problems are worse. Individualist moralities isolate us from each other, teach us that sympathy and empathy are weaknesses, and that our own personal advancement and achievement is the most important of your affects in the world.

Don't think I’m declaring these statements as absolute universals. I’m talking about a tendency, a predominance and inclination to holding yourself back from connecting with all the sloppy messiness of your friends’ and neighbours’ humanity.

And I’m not about to launch into some “Get off my lawn!” rant about social media interactions. Online social networking media enable many connections among people that would otherwise have frayed away much faster thanks to distance and conflicting schedules. And that’s important. 

But you can have a deep conversation with someone through writing, for instance. Epistolary relationships have a long and noble history in society and literature. Now, our letters move faster than ever.

And a video chat is more intimate than a phone call, and can be carried out across the planet – often without even having to pay long-distance charges if your broadband packages are good enough. 

Yet if the people involved are suppressed their sympathy and empathy in the name of a morality of individualism in politics, business, and daily life? Degrading those habits of sympathy and the strength to deal with intense emotional connections is more fundamental. 

Levinas experienced the insights at the heart of his
philosophy of ethics in real life. After the Second World
War, he was an employee of the French government
processing refugee claims from families displaced by
the war and Holocaust victims. It was his job to sit
and hear the pleas of Europe's most desperate people,
and evaluate them according to a list of criteria.
Understanding what was so repugnant about this
is at the basis of his philosophy.
Social media is a scapegoat for this, largely in articles written by or for people of an older generation who doesn’t know how it actually works. Our destructive individualism is an ideology, much more fundamental to the character of our society than a media platform.

Emmanuel Levinas wrote that the foundation of ethics is our singular encounter with the face of another human, the plead for help and love, and our sympathetic response. Every such encounter between people is open to an intense engagement of our sympathy, the bonds of solidarity, friendship, and love between people.

We can train ourselves to become better at handling these encounters and responding to them. We can also let that power atrophy. And we’re more likely to do it if we believe that asking for help and being vulnerable to the love of another is an expression of weakness.

That, I think, is at the heart of the progressive political movements that I take part in. At least, it’s my motivating philosophy. I want to do my part to restore to society that capacity to build community, friendship, and love that I think the moralities of mercenary individualism have atrophied.

I’m no radical.

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