Saturday, May 14, 2011

Collective egoism

In some recent conversations with a good friend, I coined the expression ’collective egoism’ to describe a particular mentality that has become prevalent in nouveau riche Norwegian culture, in our opinion at least. Before I describe how I would define the term, I will say that I googled the expression earlier today, and sure enough, it has been coined before and described extensively. No matter. I will define it in my way. We were talking about our workplace (as usual) and it struck us both that there is incredible pressure on all of us (as scientists) now to get grant money, fame and glory for ourselves for the greater glory of our workplace—to succeed, to be the best, to reach the top. When you try to remind certain workplace leaders that some people are in fact smarter, more creative or more talented than others (always have been, always will be) and that these people will always get more grant money, power and success, you get told that, no, if you only do so-and-so, you can be just as good as the others. You can of course catch up, match them, and achieve their worldly successes. You don’t really have to compete with them, because if you only knew their secrets, which are of course penetrable, well, you could be just like them. I don’t know if they really believe their own rhetoric. If they do, it is yet another example of the Scandinavian socialist mentality at work. I want to like this mentality, I really do, but I don’t. I resent any mentality that tells me that all people can be the same, that all people have the same opportunities, talents, and means to make it in this world. It is patently untrue. It does not matter if the same opportunities are presented to for example, twenty high school students. Each of those twenty students has different talents, smarts, and capabilities. None of them will respond similarly to the same challenge. And why should they, and how can they? It is the differences in people that make a society tick—make it varied and interesting and multi-cultural and all the things we want it to be. Do we really want a society where all people are equally-talented—whether they be musicians, scientists, writers, actors, or medical doctors? Do we really want to teach our children that if you show talent as a musician that could also be a writer even if you show no natural talent in this regard? This sounds quite delusional to me. It also presupposes that there is a script that one can follow to become successful. If you just conform and do this, follow that, take that course, work that shift, you too can achieve the same pinnacle of success in your chosen field, just like all your colleagues. I don’t know where these ideas came from, but they don’t work. The more pressure that is placed upon us to be similar, the more different we end up—because the differences between people are impossible to suppress and because human nature will want to reveal and express those differences.

But it is the huge pressure to achieve materialistic success that has gotten me thinking about collective egoism. There is tremendous pressure in this country to own your own home, to have the best possible interior design and architecture, to own a cottage by the sea, possibly a cottage in the mountains, two or more cars, several TVs, to be able to travel abroad several times a year, buy expensive clothes and shoes, go to the theater and the opera—the list goes on and on. Suffice it to say that the pressure is more subtle than overt, but for each year that passes, this society becomes richer and the pressure mounts. Is this what happens in a rich society? Again we are faced with the same mentality—collective egoism—the acquisition of money and material goods for ourselves, ultimately for the greater good of our society. We have become a nation of collective egoists. Equal opportunity greed. I see it in the commercials on TV for kitchen renovations. It seems as though everyone is renovating their kitchen (or being encouraged to do so) these days in order to have a state-of-the-art, modern kitchen, and this is pushed and supported by the media, such that those who do not have the means to obtain this kind of kitchen (younger couples for example) end up on the outside looking in. But not for long. Now there are commercials advertising how this or that company can provide you with the kitchen that the ‘others’ have for a fourth of the price. Not only are we presented with the suggestion that it should be so (that everyone should have the same type of kitchen), but we are also told what kind of kitchen qualifies to be the best. This may be all well and good, but does everyone need this kind of kitchen? And what happened to the idea of working toward the goal of acquiring a new kitchen in a few years, of saving money to make that dream happen if you are a young couple starting out? The one important aspect of collective egoism is the ‘I have to have it now’ aspect. It is boring to have to wait for anything that one wants. Ultimately, it is all about ‘show’—that you ‘get’ a particular look that is ‘cool’. The exterior matters more than the interior. In other words, even if you never really use your kitchen to cook, it still looks top-notch and that’s what is important. The same could apply to widescreen TVs or broadband. Each person in society shall have the same as everyone else in society—the same wealth, the same goods, the same access to those goods, etc. But again, this is a fallacy. There are rich people in socialist-democratic societies just like in other societies who have wealth that others could only dream about—it may be inherited or hard-earned. But it makes them different from the rest of us, and to spend one’s life in pursuit of this kind of wealth just to make it to the same level as these people seems quite pointless to me. I’d rather pursue my own talents and interests, as these are what make me happy and an individual. That is important to me.

1 comment:

  1. Yha Sure.
    Collective ego has been around for a long time. Tolle in Now talks about it,(2008), and he picked up the term form somewhere else, something he read at Cambridge.