This appeared in Overland and it’s a definite call to arms but one I think lacks in the area of basic premises.

Firstly, I have no argument with the actions of solidarity. Yes they are critically important since it is really only by standing together that we have a chance however the political divide Stephanie asserts between collectivism and individualism cries out for further examination.

the fundamental divide between Left and Right: the Left believe humans seek community and advancement through cooperation. The Right believe humans are motivated by self-interest. We’re about the collective. They’re about the individual

So there are a few problems here. Straight off I don’t think you can draw a clear cut line between left and right. Basically because boundaries tend to become a bit vague the more you examine them (if you want read some Derrida). Another way to look at it is to say black and white sounds good, ie you are either with us or agin us but the real world seems to be more of a spectrum with graduation of grey. So you can believe it’s a black or white thing but the reality is not so clear cut.

Another problem with such a polarised viewpoint is the insistence that community (perhaps one of the most overused words in the left’s dictionary of jargon) is synonymous with cooperation and is also the antithesis of individual self interest. As game theory (the prisoner’s dilemma) shows, cooperative behaviour between individuals has a better payoff over time than non-cooperative behaviour. We don’t need to arbitrarily pit collective behaviour against individualism, rather we need to demonstrate how collective behaviour provides the greatest benefit for the largest number of individuals. It’s about being pragmatic about outcomes.

A more insightful perspective is not to pose the left/right dichotomy as cooperation versus self-interest, rather we need to look at the what happens when the focus is shifted away from the greater good and towards appeals to self-interest. Such systematic institutionalised appeals (as we have been experiencing for several decades) tend to promote competitive behaviour between individuals. Competition has been elevated by the politics of the right as the “natural” arbiter of best outcomes yet this seems to be merely an assertion based on some sort of social darwinism rather than something grounded in a considered analysis of the relative strengths of cooperative and competitive behaviour in terms of the greater good.

Which is why solidarity is so important, it enables the greater good in both deed and outcomes.


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