Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Social Individual and the Self

Here is some research which I will definitely be following, because it has everything to do with my own developing ideas on human socially-derived individuality. Roy Baumeister has a theory that humans are unique in having true selves, which in turn allowed us to develop highly complex social structures.

His line of research suggests a resolution of the seeming contradiction that social science research shows that groups are good and that groups are bad. In other words,
combining two ongoing lines of research on group dynamics: that groups are bad, since they bring out conformity, social loafing, and the mob mentality; and that groups are good, encouraging cooperation, division of labor, and the wisdom of crowds. To Baumeister and his colleagues, it’s the role of the self that drives groups in either direction, for good or for ill. The group suffers when when the self is subsumed into it, and responsibility — for morality or performance — gets diffused. But if the self retains its individuality, then all sorts of benefits follow.
 This suggests that culture---of a society or of a business---matters a great deal, because it is through the culture that ideas of self and its relation to the group emerge.

For too many, the choice seems to be radical individualism or collectivism. But the fact of the matter is that humans are neither, and do not do well as either. Humans, as thinkers like Adam Smith, David Hume, and F. A. Hayek understood and argued, are both simultaneously, meaning we are social individuals.
It’s a marrying of collectivist and individualist impulses, and the parallels abound. Contemporary thinking about how the brain optimally functions contends that the brain is at its best when all regions are differentiated from one another as well as integrated into a whole, like a city where neighborhoods develop their local flavor while still being connected to the rest of them.
 It should not be surprising that things like the human brain and human macrostructures like cities follow this pattern of unity in variety and variety in unity. Another great thinker, Francis Hutcheson (teacher of Adam Smith) argued that that was the definition of beauty. Beautiful brains, beautiful humans, and beautiful cities. None of this is surprising to me, anyway.

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