Saturday, November 3, 2018


395. Individual and social

The theme of self and other has been discussed extensively in this blog, and a bundle of items on that theme can be downloaded from my website www.bartnooteboom.nl  A combination of elements from the blog and my 2012 book ‘Beyond humanism: the flourishing of life, self and other’, and my 2015 book ‘Beyond nihilism: imperfection on the move’, with the title ‘Beyond nihilism: self and other between Nietzsche and Levinas’ can also be downloaded from that website. Here I give only a brief summary. 

The human being is individual but not autonomous, as economists would have it. It is socially constituted, on the basis of interaction with others, and shared culture. Culture here is anthropological: habits and customs, but also an ethic and morality. While those may be shared, what is made from it becomes individual, along a personal path of life.

That yields diversity, or what I called ‘cognitive distance’, and that may hinder mutual understanding but also offers an opportunity, to learn, and to escape, more or less, from personal prejudice and myopia. For this, one needs to develop the ability to understand people who think differently, intellectually and morally. That also yields economic advantage, in a better ability to innovate by combining different ideas.

For its development, the human being needs recognition, acceptance and respect, in local communities with some stability, needed also to develop and maintain trust, but those communities also need some external contacts and some entry and exit of inhabitants, not to get mired in rigidity, myopia and prejudice.

Strong bonds of interaction and mutual understanding are difficult to achieve on a national level. That requires decentralisation of governance to municipalities or city neighbourhoods, with an elected mayor, council and citizen panels, with or without political parties. That carries problems, as discussed earlier, but those are not insuperable (see item 347 of this blog).

A second need is to put an end to the present excessive flexibilization of work, with more continuity of work and teams. That is good for the quality of labour and the quality of products, which require ‘specific investments’ in mutual understanding and trust, for which some continuity of relationships is needed, in order to recoup those investments, which otherwise would not be made.

For this, and for innovation, the environment, and a just future for the young, a perspective of the long term is needed. No longer the obsession with profit in the next quarter. If shareholders cannot muster this, then they should not have a majority in supervisory boards. Those would also contain membership from employees, customers, suppliers and the local community. The latter especially with a view to protection of the environment.

Economists will comment that then the price of capital will increase, because opportunities for profit are foregone, which would lead to lower prosperity. Yes: that would have to be accepted: a bit less prosperity for the sake of a more humane and sane society.