Individualism in Canada

By devin, 5 March, 2014

Last night I watched some videos from the "Kids React" series, which is a great way to see what people are thinking. Kids are getting their ideas from others and recombining them in their brains just like I am, they're just more up front about it and say it in simpler words.

One thing that struck me was this move towards individualism. In the video about rotary phones, when it was revealed you couldn't text with them, one kid asked "What would you do in an emergency?" The answer to the kid's question is the same as the answer to why we need a lot of the conveniences we have today. If there was an emergency, you'd ask a stranger for help. In fact, I'd say our reliance on texting in emergencies is actively breaking down the fabric of our society that leads to helping each other.

I hope that that's not true though. I was struck a few weeks ago when heavy snow hit Kitchener by the way in which people started pitching in and helping each other out. The common enemy of winter really brings people together, even more so when our lives are in danger on the road or the snow is a huge inconvenience. Working in downtown Kitchener was a great place to witness this.

This morning I read an article in the Walrus, "Happy Returns", that talks about the neoliberalism of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Brian Mulroney. The idea was that big government was bad, and that cutting taxes would be more efficient. This is a great quotation from the article:

Tell people that government is evil for long enough, that it is wasteful and inefficient and obstructs our fredoms, and eventually they will believe you so thoroughly that it will impinge on the ability of you or anybody else to govern

This reminds me of another awful feedback loop. Let's say you need to have a cell phone so you can text or call your family in emergencies only. But if cell phones weren't available, there would be no emergencies that required your family. What if instead we built a social fabric together, so we could rely more on the kindness of strangers?

Now, I'm exploring alarmism in that previous paragraph; I believe that we already have that social fabric, and I don't think it's going away any time soon. The social fabric exists in phone calls and when people knock on your door - we use our phones and computers more, but in my social circle, people still know what to do. But you have to wonder - how many misunderstandings could end in tragedy? Maybe a child isn't willing to ask for help from a stranger, for instance, and is needlessly hurt. Or maybe a stranger runs toward someone to offer help and is sued into oblivion.

My worry about this issue is prompted by the video and the article, but tempered by the helping nature I witnessed in Kitchener during the extreme winter weather. People drive more slowly. People shovel sidewalks or help others get through snowbanks. But even above all that, during this kind of weather, people acknowledge each other more and smile more. It would be nice if that was every day, but realistically, I'm happy it happens when it needs to happen.

But even though we have that helping nature to fall back on, I still reject the idea of stranger danger. I reject the idea of cell phones being our only reliable way of getting help. Heck, I reject the idea that we NEED to have the ability to help ourselves at all times.

As a final note, another thing colouring my view in this argument is God. I believe I'll never control every aspect of my life, and I also believe I shouldn't. I rather put faith that God is there as my call in an emergency. The practice of that shapes my thinking; I am more willing than I used to be to ask others for help. It's humbling. That's the goal. 

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