An impassioned appeal for a more connected world.

Oliver thinks we are way out of kilter because we have become too individualistic. He believes that humans have evolved to balance individualism and groupism. In theory, this takes him into the controversial territory that is group selection. But he dodges the technical discussion. Instead, he adduces a welter of statistics and examples showing how increasing individualism leads to a raft of well-known problems. These problems crop up in areas that range from the environment to personal wellbeing. He consequently pleads for a cultural shift towards collective thinking. This is not meant to be a backdoor into communism. It is, rather, an exhortation to avoid the tragedy of the commons. This (economics) term means the cumulative exercise of individual freedoms for individual benefit. This leads cumulatively to the overall degradation of society/economy/environment, hence the tragedy. Setting aside the technical arguments around the evolutionary science, he may be right.

He locates the wellspring for this drift towards individualism in the delusion that we each believe that we have an all-important self. This self directs our attitudes and our  behaviour. Whilst the idea of self is useful in some ways, eg to plan one’s life, ‘the illusion of an independent ‘I’ has become maladaptive. This has led to problems in an increasingly connected and globalised world’. He suggests that in today’s ultra-large communities people get away with excessive selfishness. He suggests that the current fashion for ‘self-identity’ is exacerbating the problem. Instead he advocates meditation. This will dampen down our individualism and lead us to being more community-minded. If enough people do this, we will reach a tipping point (in a good way), and the rest will be history.

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