I find myself thinking a lot these days about the difference between individual and collective solutions to problems.
As a lifetime martial artist, I believe personal responsibility is important, especially in a crisis situation. But personal responsibility does not necessarily mean individual solutions; rather it means that you take action in a situation instead of wringing your hands.
It can, for example, mean you follow the evacuation plan out of a disaster area. Or that you organize your neighbors to deal with a disaster. Or that you follow public health recommendations about things like wearing masks and getting vaccines. You take personal responsibility to behave in a useful and collective way.
But in the United States, we all too often take the attitude that all problems are individual, not collective, with the “you do you” approach to the pandemic being only the latest example.
A couple of weeks ago I did a lot of driving on California freeways, which made me extremely aware of how building a society around cars takes individualism to an extreme. We have this whole network of high-speed roads, driven on by people with varying degrees of skill in vehicles of all sizes and in all conditions of repair.
Individualism only goes so far in that situation. Even if I’m doing my best to drive safely and responsibly, there are only so many options to protect myself on a six-lane highway clogged with cars if someone else is driving like an idiot or even just has a tire blow out.
43,000 people died due to traffic “accidents” in the U.S. in 2021. (I put “accidents” in quote marks because I read Jessie Singer’s There Are No Accidents, a book that points out that many of the deaths and injuries we put under that title are caused by policy decisions. I wrote about it here.)
I wonder what our life would be like today if we had put the same amount of money that went into motor vehicle infrastructure into rail systems.
Rail is collective; cars are individual. Continue reading “Acting Collectively”…