Preservation of the Individual or the Advancement of Society?

Which is more important? Can both be realistically achieved?

Yes, and it’s much harder to achieve one without the other than it is both at once. Societies are made of individuals after all. Societies that grind down the individual weaken or destroy themselves, and individuals who successfully tear down society without replacing what they destroyed weaken themselves or outright commit suicide by doing so. Yes, individuals have the moral edge on society because they are intelligent creatures while it isn’t, but they can’t really function without it.

Asking which is more important is a lot like asking whether or not your head or torso is more important. Your brain might have the moral edge because it’s the intelligent part, but a severed head doesn’t last long.

I can’t imagine there being a widespread conflict between the two. In fact, each is a necessity for the other.

Exactly - the two are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent. The advancement of society is the advancement of individuals. The goal of social justice is to ensure that all individuals can benefit from the advances created by their common endeavor. Any society that does not aim for such justice is not worth advancing IMHO.

This comes up all the time when comparing Chinese governance to US governance. We tend to think they don’t respect human rights or the value of the individual. They tend to think we are hopelessly inefficient and dither about with stuff that doesn’t really matter rather than just getting things done.

To give an example, a couple years ago a guy tied up traffic in a major Chinese city by threatening to jump off a bridge. After several hours, an irate motorist got out and pushed the guy to his death. He was widely applauded, under the idea that the suicide jumper deserved what he got for causing so many people inconvenience.

You see this played out on other levels- the homeowners who want to keep their land versus the dam project or city development project, the support for or opposition to the death penalty. the importance of keeping minority cultures alive versus the need for national unity…it’s everywhere.

Seeing as preservation of the individual’s rights is the purpose of a well functioning society as far as I’m concerned, I find the question nonsensical.

China is a Confucian society. They value the group over the individual.

It’s not entirely wrong to say any of the following: China treats their people like worker bees. The individual is expendable; one life means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

If you go by these assumptions you will NOT lose your shirt predicting how things will resolve in China.

Is it wrong to consider this story somewhat comical while entirely irrelevant?

How is it irrelevant?

Agreed. And furthermore, on virtually all occasions where someone has proposed trampling on individual rights for the sake of society, it’s turned out that their plan for advancing society was hogwash. One obvious example is the eugenics movement. It purported to kill or sterilize “inferior” individuals so as to “advance” human evolution. In reality it was based on meaningless, pseudo-scientific drivel.

He didn’t push him to his death, he pushed him onto an airbag.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPRM1BfxKL0
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8064867.stm

Is it? A well-functioning society provides you with a lot more than protection of your rights.

As in… Who needs to be an individual when they have free health care?

Thanks for pointing this out to me.

If they weren’t an individual they wouldn’t care about free health care. They’d just be an appendage of society and when it became expensive to keep them alive they’d quietly walk off a cliff or something. Trying to keep each individual alive even when it isn’t profitable to do so - with free health care, say - is the position that shows respect for the individual. Not treating people like expendable assets.

It’s one of the ironies of modern American politics that the people who make the most speeches about individualism show the least concern for actual individuals.

Have you secretly been ready Atlas Shrugged again?:smiley:

I prefer the one with orcs…and in fact it’s something of a two-for-one deal since the orcs make good stand ins for Randians…

Well, assuming the story was as originally described - that someone blocking traffic was pushed to his death by an irate motorist…

The society didn’t take the fatal action, nor a government agent. The pusher might have gotten some praise, but vigilantes always get praise from someone.

Further, the jumper wasn’t engaged in some individual pursuit of something. I’m not sure what the mentality is of people who threaten to jump from things, but isn’t it largely a bid for attention, i.e. they need the society to take note? I know of non-suicidal people who engage in dangerous displays like this to call attention to some issue (and possibly, it can be argued, advance the society), but there’s no indication of there here.

Okay, so he wasn’t pushed to his death, he was pushed on to a waiting airbag.

I was teaching in China at the time, and the story got a fair bit of press. We discussed it in my classes, and the students largely said “Well, that’s what you get for holding up traffic.” The pusher became a bit of a folk hero. Honestly I think they would have mostly said the same thing if he had died. The general idea was that an individual has no right to cause problems for the community as a whole.

I know people who worked directly with people displaced by the Three Gorges Dam. They were often tossed off land and houses that had been in the family for hundred of years, and shoved into institutional housing (a step or so above a US housing project) with rent due every month and a couple thousand bucks (a nice sum, but not a fortune…probably less than the land would be worth on the real estate market minus any sentimental value) in compensation. For the most part, there was very little anger. The general attitude was that it was something that needed to be done sooner or later for the betterment of all of China, and while some individuals may take a hit, it was worth it for the whole.

I could give more anecdotal examples, but you get the point. The idea is not “all Chinese people think this way,” but rather that this is actually a contested question with different points of view that is being actively argued in some places. We don’t understand this debate as much because we are so far to one side, but the debate is there none the less.

Both need to be defined before the value of each can be weighed. “Preservation of the Individual” can mean unlimited competition and selfishness. “The advancement of society,” can mean a totalitarian willingness to persecute and kill large numbers of people who are considered to impede this advancement.

I think we need to find a mean between laissez faire capitalism and anarchism on one hand, and the totalitarianism of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot on the other. I find my mean in European Social Democracy.