Been meaning to post about this for ages, but Campbell’s post finally gave me the push.
It’s about how buying into individualism and free market initiatives has made things worse for the left. Green consumerism, explaining how relieving poverty in the developing world will build a market for your country’s products, or suggesting that you can impress your friends and enhance your social status by buying a hybrid car has merely legitimised Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as society, only individuals” attitude.
Each time the Left (through Blair, Brown in the UK, along with all the major charities) has tried to use individualism to their advantage they have just entrenched those views further and made the next year’s effort harder. This is shown up in the British Social Attitudes survey, that has Britain more Thatcherite now than in her heyday. The legitimising of individualist attitudes over those considering community has become a self-fulfilling prophesy, and a previously quite socialist society is now anything but.
People in society tend to act as expected. Cater for the lowest common denominator, get it. Treat public like donkeys, get asses. Expect everyone to be a criminal…
When the Left has not been trying to win by by accepting the Right’s premise, they’ve been making serious psychological mistakes.
They’ve been expecting everyone to consider policy rationally and realise that their solutions are best. But most people are far too busy with everyday life to read every party’s manifesto and consider the economic and social benefits for them and society.
Oddly Right-wing economists make same mistake in “invisible hand of market” – expect us to be what Sunstein and Thaler in Nudge calls “Econs” – always making rational choices based on information around us. It’s why the free market tends to work well for breakfast cereal and toilet paper, but not so great on insurance and healthcare. Simple choices that you make regularly work well, complex ones you make every few years don’t. Voting definitely falls into the second category of whether we can expect rational decisions.
And having allowed individualism to become the norm, the emotions those decisions will be made on are extrinsic ones – status, financial success and fear of strangers – rather than intrinsic ones – empathy, social justice and concern for the environment.
What we need is for people to showcase the intrinsic emotions, so that they are more valued again. You’re not born with your values, you learn them. A society can slowly move from more people with more extrinsic outlooks to one with more people with more intrinsic ones – and vice versa. Through the 80s and 90s we saw a shift to individualism – it’s up to us ordinary lefties if we want to shift it back. We need to get out there, act communally and do good for others, and encourage others to do the same – and it can become the norm again.
Good ECE also helps – it means people learn self control and ability to understand emotions of others. So you can see why Labour’s Putting Children First policy is so important, and why NAct with their individualist agenda are so keen to make cuts to the sector.
Thatcher got it that “economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul,” marketeers according to Guy Murphy “should see themselves as trying to manipulate culture; being social engineers, not brand managers; manipulating cultural forces, not brand impressions,” and the Left need to get it too. It’s about values and emotions with which we need to sell ourselves. We can (and should!) have all our wonderfully enlightened rational arguments sitting there waiting to back them up, but rhetoric needs fighting with rhetoric, not rationality. We don’t need to play on the Right’s turf, but they’ve learned to use the weapon of emotion, and we do need to learn to use that – we must fight their appeal to Status with an appeal to Fairness and their Fear with Hope and Love of Humanity.
1 Trevor – if you reference someone (including us!) it’s nice to give a link…