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INDIVIDUTOPIA and the Neo-Liberal "Society"

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07/06/2019

In 1987 in an interview with “Woman's Own” Margaret Thatcher said ,

"They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours."

Of course, The Iron Lady was making perfect sense. Prosperity and happiness comes from individual efforts, human action. The blob known as society does not act, it’s not a thing.

Ludwig von Mises explained , “Society is division and association of labor. In the final analysis, there is no conflict of interest between society and the individual, as everyone can pursue his interest more efficiently in society than in isolation.”

Author Joss Sheldon, despite having a degree from the London School of Economics, takes Thatcher’s quote and creates a dystopian world where no one talks or sees anyone else. INDIVIDUTOPIA: A novel set in a neoliberal dystopia takes us to 2084 London. There is no collaboration, only competition, depression, anxiety and suicide. Avatars are your only companions. There is no human contact. At the same time, individuals are continuously ranked versus others at various activities. A lonely pressure-cooker, indeed.

The book’s heroine Renee Ann Blanca’s living quarters are so small she can’t stand up. Her gas mask emits frequent bursts of anti-depression medication into her airflow. Her personal debt is constantly updated. She is charged for everything, including each and every step. Ms. Blanca constantly looks for jobs, but, falls deeper in debt.

In this corporate oligarchy, machines make everything so all jobs are of the Keynesian make-work variety. For instance, one day Ms. Blanca’s job is to move furniture from one room to another and then move the furniture back where it was. There is no fresh food, just vitamin replacement.

Some reviewers on GoodReads believe Sheldon’s dystopia is already here. “Individutopia by Josh Sheldon is a dystopian tale that takes the current obsession with individualism to its ultimate extreme. Most of the world’s wealth is owned by a few individuals—does that ring any bells?—and the individual is allowed to earn just enough income to survive, but never to be able to escape the heavy burden of debt.” writes Charles Ray. “You’ll not miss the parallels with our current existence, and hopefully this book will make you think about the path we’re currently on, and what you, as an individual, can do to restore society to its rightful place.”

Good grief, “current obsession with individualism to its ultimate extreme.” Really, individualism is the slippery slope to dystopia? Murray Rothbard explained, “Rugged individualism, also known as social Darwinism, is inhumane and illogical; it is based on a completely false use of analogy and an absurd theory of ethics.”

Sheldon’s hero walks out of London (no escape required) and meets other people. She’s treated as a hero by these people who get along and live a collective lifestyle, eating berries and such. “Socialists believed in society...Living with other people, in a society, makes us ‘Socialists.’” Renee almost punched the air: “Yes! Yes, yes, yes! That’s exactly what I thought I wanted.”

The village Renee stumbles on to exemplifies what Thatcher said, "It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours," but the author’s message is that we need a socialist framework to get along with, talk with, and have meaningful relationships with other people.

Now, that would be a dystopian world. Rothbard illustrates that Sheldon has it backwards.

The glory of the human race is the uniqueness of each individual, the fact that every person, though similar in many ways to others, possesses a completely individuated personality of his own. It is the fact of each person’s uniqueness — the fact that no two people can be wholly interchangeable —that makes each and every man irreplaceable and that makes us care whether he lives or dies, whether he is happy or oppressed. And, finally, it is the fact that these unique personalities need freedom for their full development that constitutes one of the major arguments for a free society.

Douglas French is former president of the Mises Institute, author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply , and author of Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth. He received his master's degree in economics from UNLV, studying under both Professor Murray Rothbard and Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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