Friday, March 12, 2004

Tariana Turia and the dangers of Social Constructivism

Tariana Turia provides a classic example of the Social Constructivist view of the individual in relation to the group - Public interest in public health:

"Public health addresses the health of society, and the populations and groups that make up the general public.

"It is only indirectly about the personal health of individuals, in the sense that public health will not improve unless individuals benefit from public health measures."

Her belief is that individual health is SECONDARY to that of the group. The health of the individual is only significant to the degree that it has an effect on the group's health.

This is an IDEOLOGICAL position. It is a statement of the Social Constructivist view that "Society" is not a collection of individuals, it is something that exists in and of itself and transcends the individual.

This ideology has been demolished by Left-leaning academics such as Stephen Pinker and Peter Singer who warn that not only is it not true but that it has the dangerous corollary of Human Nature being determined by Society. The idea of remaking Human Nature by remaking Society was the basis for all of the major calamities of the 20th century. It is bad news for the Left to stay with such views.

She goes on to make the false dichotomy between the Good - those that believe in group values:

"Most of us are happy to support those with special needs, because we realise that, one day, the person with special needs could be me. The whole social relationship is based on shared values of love, caring, generosity, appreciation of others, and social responsibility."

and the Bad - those that have individualistic tendencies -

"There are some people, however, who feel so privileged and powerful, that they do not want to engage with those values. They feel they have the resources to cope with any adversity, and everyone else should be the same, so they can be relieved of any responsibility for others.

"Their whole outlook is fundamentally individualistic and selfish. They see those with special needs as a burden."

And then concludes that it is this selfishness that drives those that disagree with her -

"To me, that is part of what lies behind the recent attacks on so-called 'special privileges for Maori'. It is driven by ideology and values, not facts and logic."

Anyone who has read any evolutionary psychology will recognise this argument. For Tariana Turia, humans are fundamentally co-operative, that working in groups comes naturally and that individualist tendencies are a sign of pathology. The myth of the Noble Savage.

Modern science has shown conclusively that this simplistic view of how humans cooperate is just not true. We do cooperate but not equally with all people and only under specific circumstances. We are more inclined to cooperate with those we are related to, often to the detriment of society as a whole (inheritance laws, nepotism). Also people have cooperated to do some pretty terrible things - to operate concentration camps for example.

Tariana Turia's position is not ideologically neutral. It is possible to disagree with her from a Left wing perspective, without being racist and with the aim of making public health initiatives more effective.


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