I’ve been obsessed – I just can’t find a better term – all my life with the respect of three values, freedom, fairness and equality, which in my (ideal) world are core values of the left – a left that unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. I took so many decisions, personal and not, with these three values in mind. I failed sometimes, but still I felt proud of my sense of respect for these three guiding principles.
A few days ago Seth Godin has published a little gem, where he defines, guess what, the three values. And he adds some arguments about responsibility and equality that quite frankly are the cause of some of my failures. Here is what he writes. I think it is worth to share.
Freedom doesn’t mean no responsibility. In fact, it requires extra responsibility. Freedom is the ability to make a choice, and responsibility is required once you make that choice.
Fairness isn’t a handout. Fairness is the willingness to offer dignity to others. The dignity of being seen and heard, and having a chance to make a contribution.
And equality doesn’t mean equal. Equality doesn’t guarantee me a starting position on the Knicks. Equality means equality of access, the opportunity to do my best without being disqualified for irrelevant reasons.
There are several reasons why rampant individualism sits at the core of the Tory project. Individualism promotes the idea that our successes in life are purely down to our own efforts. That rationalises inequality, because it perpetuates the myth that the wealthiest are the brightest and hardest working while the poorest are the stupidest and the laziest. Inequality simply becomes just desserts, rather than the sign of a society rigged in favour of a lucky minority. Tax becomes a punishment for success rather than a contribution to the collective kitty.
Individualism transforms social problems such as poverty and unemployment into personality defects, rather than the ills of a poorly constructed society – to be cured by a change in an individual’s attitude rather than by collective solutions, such as a welfare state. It erodes a sense that the majority have shared interests and aspirations, which are not only different from those of the elite, but on a collision course with them. It is fatal to the logical conclusion of this sentiment: that the majority should deploy their collective strength to challenge the concentrated wealth and power of the few.
As a dogma, this form of individualism is a formidable obstacle to socialism. But in practice it has increasingly resulted in insecurity: no wonder, then, that solidarity is so hankered after by so many. Labour has an opportunity to fashion a new individualism, with the promise that only socialism can liberate the individual.