(Photo source: Xinhua)
Currently, the pandemic in Western countries is hard to control. Especially in the United States, it is spread more quickly. According to reports, on July 5, 19% of the US population lived in high-risk areas. By August 9, the figure had skyrocketed to 98%.Western countries such as the US with advanced medical resources still face accelerating transmission of the novel coronavirus. In addition to the strong contagiousness of the virus, and the fact that vaccine immunization is not as effective as expected, rampant individualism is a leading cause of poor epidemic prevention and control in the West.
The social roots of anti-intellectualism
Western countries including the US are typically capitalist countries, where the domination of capital is ubiquitous. It not only dominates the economy and controls politics, but also directly participates in shaping social values. Economically, capital's rule is based on exploiting and suppressing people’s work achievement. Politically, it is based on a minority capitalist class' domination of the majority of workers. Thus, the rule of capital is a political secret, which is in practice but not in words. In order to legitimize the unjust economic exploitation and class dictatorship, to make the exploited and oppressed willing to be enslaved, its values are inevitably anti-intellectualism that confound right and wrong.
In the social sciences field, anti-intellectualism deliberately avoids the class analysis, and tries its best to replace it with universal or individualistic contents. Any issue except class can be discussed, such as the rights of women, environmental protection, human rights, and racial discrimination. The aim is just to avoid targeting capital. To dodge substantive issues, bourgeois political theories are generally very slick, superficial and very sanctimonious, fancy on the surface, but empty in fact.
In the field of political science, capitalist society has blatantly "devalued" and "de-ideologized" political science, making the discipline, which is supposed to focus on the priorities of human societies, subsidiary to issues such as the ways of measurements. In the realm of economics, vulgar economics, which defends capitalists, has become popular. "What vulgar economics does, in fact, is to dogmatize, systematize and defend the opinion of the parties in production, who are confined into the bourgeois relations of production.”
In the area of values, ignoring objective laws and modern science disguised by a strong belief in religion has led to the spread of false theories. Polls show that 1/3 of American people still do not believe in evolution. Vice President Mike Pence of the Trump administration said that smoking wouldn’t cause cancer and denied the theory of evolution, arguing that life and the intelligent on earth were created by God. The US has never had a large-scale socialist movement since its founding, but has become a base camp of anti-socialism and anti-communism. It is due to ideological standoff in the first place, and also the deep-rooted Christian ideology. Christians are exhorted to obey God and become rich with God's blessing. But the secular theory of socialism, as well as materialism and atheism are not appealing to or even rejected by these religious believers.
In order to anaesthetize the majority of people, Brzezinski and other American political elites also put forward the theory of tittytainment, advocating that in order to keep the upper 20% of the population at ease, it is necessary to make sure 80% of the population live a peaceful life in warm, narcotic, low-cost, semi-satisfying ways. One way is to advocate sexual entertainment, such as opening up the pornography industry, encouraging violent online games, and encouraging wars of words. Another way is to advocate satisfying games, such as filming soap operas and idol dramas, news of celebrity scandals, and broadcasting public and even vulgar entertainment programs such as reality TVs. These entertainments take up a lot of people's time and make them unable to think and resist in a conscious way. Brzezinski's opinion may seem extreme, but it shows that the values system of the bourgeoisie has a strong tendency to be anti-intellectual. Its starting point is mental hypnotism, which makes the people muddle-headed as if they had been taking sleeping pills or opium.
Individualistic values are confusing and harmful
Among various anti-intellectual notions, the most confusing and harmful is individualist values. Theoretically, individualism highlights the value, dignity, and rights of the individual in a community, and undoubtedly has a conspicuous step forward compared with the dependent social relations of feudal societies. However, the defects of individualist ontology are obvious, which have had many negative effects in practice.
First of all, it conceals the unequal relations of production where capitalists exploit workers. The capitalists are, after all, fewer than the working class in numbers. In order to dominate in a situation of disparity of power, the prerequisite is to break the proletarians into parts, so that the workers can only fight against powerful capitalists as individuals. Therefore, it ensures the overwhelming position of capital power over the workers. In order to justify the unequal relations between laborers and capitalists, capitalists must create a new theory that legitimizes the former's suffering. By promoting individualistic values, it inadvertently atomizes the majority of people who were interdependent and socially dependent, leaving them alone to face the capital power. According to the idea of prioritizing individual freedom, the individual worker competes with the capitalists, and the labor union is undoubtedly an intruder that not only violates the freedom of the capitalists, but also prevents workers from achieving success through struggles.
Pursing individual freedom, individual supremacy, individual struggle, and individual responsibility seems wonderful, but in fact, the atomized individualism breaks up the possibility of solidarity among workers, covering up the essence of capitalists' exploitation of the majority. Compared with the forced labor in the slave society and the subordinate position of laborers in the feudal society, the so-called individual freedom of workers in capitalist societies is nothing more than the freedom to sell their labor, and the freedom to be exploited by any capitalist. Thus, individualism seems to pay more attention to individual well-being, but in fact it serves the expansion and appreciation of capitalists. Its ultimate goal is to rationalize the exploitation of labor by capitalists. In this way, individualist values can kill people without spilling blood.
Secondly, individual interests outweigh social interests, which ultimately leads to the "minimization of the overall interests". For a long time, capitalists' greed for profit has been under great social and moral pressure, but the emergence of individualist values has solved this problem. The individualistic ontology regards the separate, isolated, and self-contained atomic individual as the basic entity of the human society, and derives a series of inferences such as "individual dominance", "individual over the society" and “individual above the state”. The former Prime Minister of the UK Margaret Thatcher once said, "There is no so-called society, only individual men and women." In this way, individualist values are inherently anti-social and anti-national. Extreme individualists can only see themselves, completely disregarding various social evaluation criteria (such as right and wrong, good and evil) and lacking empathy and compassion for the health, happiness or suffering of others.
From the individualistic ontology, it is logical that ideas and theories will emerge to justify egoism and defend capitalists' pursuit of profit. Philosophers and economists such as Adam Smith and David Hume in the 18th century argued that the key to achieving a well-ordered society is not self-interest, but identifying the motives for self-interest and making it serve the goals and methods with social values. Adam Smith once said, "The food and drink we need every day come not from the butcher, the brewer, or the pasta-maker, but from their intentions for self-interest." Following Adam Smith, Nassau Senior proposed the formula of maximizing individual economic interests, arguing that everyone wants to acquire more wealth with as little sacrifice as possible. John Mueller abstracted various human motives into the maximizing of wealth.
The assumption of economic man (rational man) clearly defines individuals as abstract individuals who are calculating and determined to maximize their own economic interests. The "economic man” mainly follows the principles of self-interest and rational behavior, and any behavior that deviates from the principle is considered irrational. This assumption takes it for granted that people do not care about others and their acts, even act at the cost of others, and are only for their own interests. Furthermore, they will only abide by social morale when it conforms to their personal interests.
The principle of maximizing personal interests has led to a set of confused and unbalanced evaluation standards of the society. Before capitalism, greed was always unpopular and despised by people. But with the growth of the bourgeoisie and the prevalence of individualistic values, especially Western economics based on the assumption of economic man, people radically changed their evaluation criteria for behaviors pursuing interests. The greedy pursuit of profit rejected by society centuries ago is legitimized, and the greed for wealth is regarded as reasonable demands. It is precisely in this process of amorality that the capital power has gradually become free from the shackles of social morale, and its behavior has become more and more unscrupulous, eventually leading to enlarging the anti-social nature of capitalism, turning from a stream into a flood.
However, one of the main signs of human society's continuous progress toward civilization is gradual freedom from animal or natural natures and continuously strengthening the societal attributes and the sense of community. The progress of human civilization has always been directly related to the enhancement of societal attributes, moral levels and cooperation. In this way, "man is the sum total of social relations of production". Charles Darwin, who proposed the idea of "the survival of the fittest", in fact emphasized the importance of mutual assistance. In his book The Origin of Species, he described in detail the moral qualities of human beings in the evolutionary process. He believed that the development of social instincts was the key to human evolution. Individualistic values and the social Darwinism on which they are based encourage people to return to the time of the law of the jungle and retrogress the moral level of human beings to the primitive society. In this regard, the individualistic values advocated by new-liberalism are inherently anti-social and anti-community and are contrary to the progress of human civilization.
Society is like a scattering of sand. Before individualism arose, the individual was seen as an integral part of the group, and only meaningful when related to the whole. After the emergence of individualism, the concept of people is no more a collective notion, but more of a collection of individuals. The individualists believe that the individuals exist in isolation in the so-called nature state. They are the possessors and owners of their own bodies and capacities, and therefore owners of the achievements earned by their abilities (such as labor).The unprecedented prevalence of individualism under the capitalist mode of production has made relations among people more self-isolated and merciless than at any other time in history.
The US is a typical representative of it. The US itself is a nation of immigrants, called the "United States," but in fact various ethnic groups and immigrants in it have never been united, forming a unified culture and mentality. The individualistic values upholding competition that the US strongly promotes have turned the society into a collection of atomized individuals. The side effect of atomized individuals is that society is fragmented, making it difficult to form a cohesive social community. And the people are like potatoes in a sack, seemingly being together with each other, but actually incompatible.
Pandemic exposes flaws in anti-intellectual values
The pandemic is a classic public health crisis, widespread regardless of nationality, race, or class. Therefore, the most essential thing in responding to the pandemic is the spirit of science and collectivism. Regrettably, facing the pandemic, Western politicians don’t seek solutions to the virus from experts on virus and pandemic, but dodge and shift responsibilities and believe heterodoxy.
Meanwhile, long-standing obscurantism practised by Western capitalists has eventually borne bad fruit. Infused with individualistic values for many years, many Westerners have stuck to the notion of "the individual above everything" and the idea that their rights must not be infringed. Therefore, Westerners didn’t make concerted efforts to contain the pandemic, thus greatly delaying the prevention and control. To these people, the restrictive measures taken by the government (such as home quarantine, wearing masks, and keeping social distance) curtail, even violate, personal rights. As a result, even at the peak of the pandemic, Westerners often defied government orders, holding protests, gatherings, and even individual concerts without masks. The extreme individualism has undoubtedly accelerated the spread of the pandemic. To some extent, it is the prevalence of individualism and the absence of collectivism that makes it difficult for Westerners to implement strict restrictive measures as has been done in East Asia.
Truth cannot be found without comparison. China's admirable achievements in the fight against the pandemic is directly related to the values of collectivism that China has long advocated. China has always had a tradition of integrating family and nation. Since the establishment of the new socialist China, collectivist values have been strongly advocated. It is the collectivist values and the sense of community that have enabled the Chinese people to actively abide by the government's prevention and control measures (such as lockdown, home quarantine, wearing masks in public, etc.) It turns the fight against the pandemic into a true people's war that leaves no blind spots, and ultimately ensures the victory of the fight against the pandemic.
Contributed by Tian Wenlin
Translated by Wu You