Thursday, 21 May 2009


i've been having arguments in both the real and virtual world lately about individual choice. i get so tired of people acting as if individual choices happen in a vaccuum, as if there is no environmental or cultural influences that affect the choices people make. and as if our individual choices will have no impact environmental impact.

a pretty clear example is of a person who had grown up in afghanistan, during the war with the soviet union, then lived through years of civil war and then the invasion of 2002 and resulting instability. such a person would have a very different view of the world and make vastly different choices than one who has grown up in a prosperous country with political stability and overall peace. even within a country, different environments will lead to vastly different choices.

the focus on individual choice removes the need to push for cultural change. and without cultural change, people's lives won't improve. we see this in so many areas of political debate - poverty, parenting, sexual violence, and so much more. one of my pet hates is poverty as an individual choice - if only the poor would work harder or make better choices, the poverty would go away. which allows us to ignore low wages, lack of educational resources in poor areas, lack of support at home, discrimination in employment. and any number of other issues that, were they addressed, could lead to improvements in people's lives.

we have the same argument around issues of importance to women, the same tensions between individual choice and societal influences. i guess it's all the second and third wave stuff. we want respect the choices of individuals, yet we need to recognise that choices are made because because of influences external to the individual. unless we push for change to the external, the choices available to individuals (without costs such as ostracism, shaming etc) will never be expanded.

and it's made more complex when we want to hold individuals to account for acts of sexual violence, but we also recognise that that violence is happening in a culture, an environment that is a contributing factor. that was particularly brought home with the ABC documentary on abuse of women by rugby players. although it was individuals who perpetrated the violence, it happened in a culture that enabled the violence to occur.


Anonymous said...

What is worse, Afghanistan with the Soviet invasion or the American invasion?

stargazer said...

irrelevant to the topic anon. please stick to the issues raised.

Anna said...

Strongly agree with you, Anjum. What is particularly strange to me is that our culture seems to celebrate individual choice as an ethical value in itself - even if the choices available, or the choices actually made, are shite. Doing what you need to do to be happy/fulfilled/whatever is trendy, irrespective of the consequences for other people. When people try to take collective action for social justice (eg feminism) this is interpreted not as concern for other people, but as being victims, or not being strong enough as individuals to deal with their 'own' problems.

Ultimately, though, people aren't permitted to put themselves first in all areas of life - particularly women. If you're raising kids or caregiving for someone else, individual needs can't always come first. Society would turn to crap pretty rapidly if people (esp women) took the 'individual choices' mantra too seriously.