The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part II of II


Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich

At the December 11, 2018 meeting of Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds yours truly presented Part II of II of The Evolution of Western Individualism, “Individualism in the 20th and 21st Centuries, A Closer Look.” A PDF of the evening’s slideshow is here.

This presentation was Part II of II of The Evolution of Western Individualism. The following handouts were given at the meeting – Handout 1, Handout 2. As always, comments and questions about the presentation, slideshow and handouts are welcome. Topics covered during the presentation included:

Recap of Part I

Collectivism as a Reactionary Force

Measuring Individualism/Collectivism by Geert Hofstede

The Historical Spread of Individualism Beyond the West

Objectivism by Ayn Rand

Individualism in the U.S.

The Modern Rise of Individualism Outside the West

Neoliberalism & Individualism by Noam Chomsky

Closing Thoughts

   Individualism-Group Equilibrium

   Individualism and Morality

Individualism by John Steinbeck

Individualism by Oscar Wilde

The PDF for Part I, “From the East African Rift to Silicon Valley,” is here.


Enlightenment Lost: A Faustian Exchange of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for Self Glorification and Material Convenience

Yuval Harari

Tech C.E.O.s Are In Love With Their Principal Doomsayer

[Yuval Harari]

Nellie Bowles

The New York Times, November 9, 2018

Erasing Your Individuality

How Silicon Valley is Erasing Your Individuality

Franklin Foer

The Washington Post, September 8, 2017

Imagine observing a group of chimpanzees in the woodlands of western Tanzania. One day, an otherwise ordinary member of the group decides he will affix wildflowers to the hair on his head and rub a red ochre paste on his face. Imagine further that he, so adorned, then swaggers among his fellows gesturing to his new appearance and pointing at and laughing disdainfully at his group mates. Finally, imagine that this same chimp begins taking overt and deceitful actions to get what the others consider a disproportionate share of food that the group has hunted or found.

Three Questions

  1. What do you think Mr. Special’s group mates will think of him, and what consequences might he face for such behavior? His fellows might ignore his appearance or find it amusing. Then again, the ranking male and female might take umbrage if the lesser females start given Mr Fancy the attention and deference they normally give to the two leaders of the group. Eventually and more probably, his antics regarding food, if they continue for some time, will likely result in him being beaten and/or driven from the group.
  2. Now, imagine a corollary scenario among a group of modern humans. Think of a business office situation where someone adorns himself and behaves in a manner suggesting to others that he is superior to them. And that he begins stealing or bullying to obtain promotion, wealth or communal resources to a degree that degrades the wellbeing of his group mates? For example, a cologned, well-coiffed, well-dressed Wall Street financial manager becomes known in the office for his vanity and arrogance. In his work he frequently takes action to demolish low income housing that will put thousands of low income tenants on the street in order to make way for the construction of expensive, highly profitable townhouses on the same land. Does our Mr. Profit exemplify the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity in his individual and business behavior?
  3. How has it come about that the maverick among chimpanzees scenario is an obvious affront to chimp individual and group morality, yet the corollary among humans is acceptable?

I kindly ask that you not jump to a conclusion, in the currently popular mode of “gotcha, see, I can think faster and therefore better than you,” that I’m a socialist using an evolutionary biology analogy as a rationale. Also, this essay is neither a sophistic argument intent on demeaning all points of view other than mine, nor an attempt at rhetorically deceiving you or clobbering you and your ideas into submission to my way of thinking. I kindly ask that you stay with me a bit longer. I’m simply trying to expand thinking not win points of argumentation.

First, I am not a socialist. During thirty plus years of working and living in Africa, observing firsthand how various forms of national socialism fail, I found little in that social system to recommend to any large society. Now, consider the following. Continue reading


The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part I of II

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

A sincere thank you to those who attended Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds on Tuesday, October 23, 2018 for my presentation, The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part I, ”From the East African Rift to Silicon Valley.” For those who missed it a PowerPoint version is here. A PDF copy of the slideshow is here.

A key part of the meeting was an individualism-collectivism measure and an accompanying graph I developed. This may be viewed below or download in higher resolution as an MS Excel spreadsheet here. Any comments or questions you may have about the slideshow or the measure and graph are welcome.


Regrettably, I ran over my allotted time presenting Part I and did not allow enough opportunity for discussion. I will be sure to allow plenty of discussion time during Part II, “Individualism in the 20th and 21st Centuries – A Closer Look.”


November 13 – No Meeting

November 27 – No Meeting

Dec 11 – The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part II, “Individualism in the 20th and 21st Centuries – A Closer Look” by Jim Lassiter

Dec 25 – No Meeting

Jan 08 – Little Known Facts About Gardening by Steve Yothment

Jan 22 – TBD


My Sources of News and Information

I am sometimes asked what sources I use for news and information. In addition to electronic and paper books and a free local weekly newspaper tossed in my driveway every Wednesday (awful opinion page, great crossword puzzle), I read mostly online sources. Some of them I subscribe to at reasonable rates. The following are my main sources for news, articles, commentary, essays, and other information. Very often in reading something I’ll explore an embedded link to an additional source. But these are my day-to-day places. If you know and use others you think I might be interested in, please put them and their links in a comment. Thanks!


New York Times

Washington Post

PBS News Hour

The Guardian



Atlanta Journal Constitution

Al Jazeera

Sky News

Deutsche Welle


American Association for the Advancement of Science




Arts & Letters Daily

Atlantic, The


Brain Pickings

Cato Institute

Center for Individualism

Chronicle of Higher Education

Conversation, The

Cook Political Report

Dark Mountain Project


Economist, The

Footnotes to Plato, Massimo Pigliuuci

Free Africa Forum

Globalist, The


Hedgehog Review

Hoover Institution

Huffington Post

Institute of Arts and Ideas, The


Los Angeles Review of Books

Literary Review, The




Migration Policy Institute


New Oxonian

New Scientist

New Statesman

New York Review of Books

New Yorker, The

Objective Standard, The

Oxford University Press Blog


Philosopher’s Magazine, The

Philosophy Now



RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)


Science Daily






Spiritual Naturalist

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Times Literary Supplement

United Nations



Walrus, The



Waist Deep in the Big Muddy – A Conversation with a Friend in Cape Town

Land Grab

Friend: I see that Trump has entered South African politics. This bloody issue of  [land] expropriation might really be a tipping point. How far does it go? Sure the whole colonial bit and apartheid were abhorrent. But firing the pendulum to the complete opposite also seems to invite chaos and evil. Yessus! The Institute of Race Relations here does some reliable measurements of attitudes and those do not show the excessive inter-group hatred that seems to be promoted by populist leaders. But who will gain the upper hand in the power stakes?

Me: Trumpian populism in South Africa’s politics!? Hadn’t been following the recent expropriations. Can’t think of a worse setting for populism. Talk about pouring gasoline on a fire.


One of my profs (economics) in grad school at Oregon in the ‘70s had a line he liked repeating: “The world is globalizing and tribalizing simultaneously.” He insisted it was an unsustainable dynamic that would eventually come to a fork in the road. He seemed to have no idea which fork we’d take, understandably, but he sure seemed worried about it. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to his caution. I was intoxicated by the myth that “international development” would save the day. And I was going to do my part by joining the Peace Corps and going to Africa to help in the education sector. I finally woke up after living in Swaziland a while in the early 1980s and, while there, talking and drinking a lot with Zulu, Swazi and Sotho friends sitting on the ground behind the bottle store, across the highway from the school where I taught…

Demonstrator Johnny Benitez faces off with a counter-protester during an America First rally in Laguna Beach

At that time, the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, and up until BREXIT and Trump, most economists thought the world would take and stay on the rational, all-ships-rise-with-the-tide fork in the road – the one toward ever greater globalization.

These days it seems the sapient ape, all puffed up in his nation-states and suits, is more the emotional primate willing to fight for control of all the pie in a zero sum game. And the bloody politicians of the world are willing to ride the unbridled horse of capitalism over a cliff, and take the rest of us with them. Problem is, most of those buggars will get rich in the process and escape the abyss. They will fall into their walled, well-armed, gated communities with a golden parachute. Meantime the rest of us will drown in the “blood-dimmed tide” where “the best lack all conviction and the worst are filled with passionate intensity…”

For most of my adult life I’ve been optimistic about Humankind. I’ve written about it often on my blog citing three innovations and inventions in our evolutionary prehistory and history – stone tool use, language and cooperative living; writing and the Gutenberg printing press; and the Internet – as reasons for my optimism. Surely, I thought, these are lessons and means enough to educate a critical mass of the world’s population with facts and methods needed to ensure Humankind will survive and flourish.

But like the economic models that rely on the rational man arguments, I too became blinded to the darker but equally powerful side of Homo sapiens – that greedy, cheeky little monkey in too many humans who will screw his brother’s mate or steal his candy if he thinks he might get away with it without a drubbing or worse.

Two Options

The Western Enlightenment notion of individual and group flourishing through reason and science/tech was a dream ahead of its time, one not warranting the confidence we and ultimately the rest of the world have placed in it. Or, we must accept that that dream must be postponed because the wars and genocides of the 20th Century were evidently not lessons enough and our memories too short.

DMP New Web Image

Maybe the Dark Mountain Project has it right – the myth of unbridled capitalism fueled by the myth of progress has doomed us to suffer unprecedented catastrophes and civilizational collapse. Until then, DMP says, our only hope is to prepare for it and craft a new myth/story. That being a guiding story of human survival and flourishing not created by the rich, the politicians, or the scientists and technologists; rather, one created by the creators of literature. A new literature of Earth and community sustainability and cooperation at all levels.

Our Owl & Ibis group looked at the DMP premises and arguments for six months, in depth. We concluded Humankind has no real option but to continue its still meager and undermined-by-nationalism efforts at improving global cooperation (UN and others), and to stave off the harmful toll of free capitalism through sci/tech intervention. That a new story by the literati along the way couldn’t hurt. That perhaps the trajectory of Humankind’s time on Earth is not as controllable as we thought. Hunker down, do what you can.

Big Muddy

So buckle up folks. The only way through to the other, better side of being human is straight ahead across the Big Muddy (lyrics), as Pete Seeger sang about the Vietnam War in 1967 (video). Analogously, Humankind is waist deep in the Big Muddy of capitalist exceptionalism and the big fools in power keep sayin’: “Push on!” Will we make it or we will have to turn back and find another way, if such an option presents itself?

Like all other needle eyes of evolution we’ve made it through by the skin of our teeth, there’s no guarantee we’ll make it through this current one. Two-thirds of us are theists and are convinced prayer and God will save us. I’m less optimistic than I used to be.

Friend: The Big Muddy and Muddling Through are clearly parallel philosophies. Onward!


The Power of Human Creativity: The Future of the World May Depend on It

“Things I Would Not Normally Recycle”

On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, the Owl & Ibis Confluence of Minds took a swipe at the Dark Mountain Project by tapping into our respective creative spirits. Why? Perhaps to actively, personally demonstrate to ourselves that the human creative spirit is alive, well and ever necessary – now, if not more than ever, during the 200,000-year evolutionary history of Homo sapiens.

Necessary, especially now, given DMP’s and others’ claims of impending global catastrophe(s) from human arrogance and delusion, and wasteful, unbridled-growth global capitalism.

Since January, O&I has been closely examining DMP’s bleak forecast, and DMP’s suggestion that only the arts, especially literary efforts at a new “story” for civilization, can help avert the coming fall of Humankind. Tuesday evening’s presentation, “Current Worldviews and Visions of the Future, Art” led by Judith Moore, and the upcoming O&I presentation on June 26, “Current Worldviews and Visions of the Future, The Humanities” by John Cruickshank, will conclude O&I’s look at the Dark Mountain Project. To the relief of many, I am sure.

Kudos and a hearty thank you to Judith for organizing and leading this great evening, and to her husband Richard who participated and helped schlep the pile of art materials to the meeting! Judith’s presentation also included showing excellent short videos on creating art works from disposed of materials and Dan Phillips’ construction of alternative homes from found and natural items, and construction project discards.

“Never underestimate the power of human creativity!” one attendee quipped at Tuesday’s meeting.

Great evening, time well spent! At top is an image of one of the evening’s creations. Here are the rest:




Pith helmet a prop, not standard O&I gear. 🙂