And don’t let any wide-eyed individualist tell you otherwise. The Olympics’ opening ceremony was indeed impressive, to say the least. I am sure that Boris Johnson is not going to sleep well for the next 4 years, and is cursing the day he was elected for mayor of London, as there is no chance that a free country can execute such a project at such low cost. (In terms relative to the cost likely to have been incurred in a democratic system. Slavery is low-cost, but it isn’t free).
Even though I did mention slavery, it should imply no presumption as to the motives of all the talented and hard working Chinese individuals that took part in that enormous project. For all I know, these people were extremely excited about it, and there was a fierce competition to get in, not only for profit (however small in western terms), but also for professional satisfaction, and for prestige. If anyone thinks that there is no such thing as voluntary slavery, they are naive, and obviously have not lived under a totalitarian regime.
Collectivism indeed does get results. But the results are of a variety different from the one that individualism gets. That’s why I understand very well those who support the idea of a welfare state. I can show them all the evidence against it that is out there, including unemployment rates and low GDP, but these facts have little bearing with socialists, compared with values such as economic equality. To comparatively measure the rate of success of different kinds of regimes, one first has to define ‘success’. There is often little agreement on this definition in debates between socialists and capitalists, or collectivists and individualists, and so these debates are seldom productive.
Beyond that, there is another factor that further complicates the issue, and it’s the simple fact that the black and white distinction between collectivists and individualists is something that does not exist in reality, at least as far as basic emotional aspects of these values are concerned. The staunchest individualists among us could not have stayed unmoved by the Olympics opening ceremony, at least to some degree. And, as I type this, and simultaneously with the war between Georgia and Russia, there is another war on a microscopic scale of the tiny Russian libertarian community, between those who want their country to get the hell out of Georgia, and those who have suddenly felt their nationalistic instincts come to the fore. An impressive opening ceremony is a success in most people’s book, even the more individualistic among us. And so is a forceful invasion of a foreign country is a success that is difficult to argue with, especially if one has found good enough reasons to call it a just war. Similarly, equality is a good thing in the eyes of most people, albeit to widely varying degrees.
And so, what makes most of us really different, especially collectivists vs. individualists, is the price we are willing to pay for success. This is the major deciding factor, well before we define for ourselves what is it that we want to achieve, and what would constitute a success in each particular case. Like many, I watched the opening ceremony with very mixed feelings. Along with admiring the enormity of the project, the precision of execution, and the amazing aesthetic value of the show, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about millions of Chinese people who were forced to pay for it out of their meager income, those who had the roads they take every day to go to work, market, school or doctor blocked (the same roads the construction of which was paid out of their pockets as well), those people whose homes were demolished to make room for the fancy hotels to house the Olympics spectators.
It is all a matter of price, and the most important (and the most difficult) decisions we humans have to make throughout our lives are the ones where we have to decide on the price we are willing to pay for things that our hearts desire. From those proverbial cans of Coke (one being offered to us in a restaurant at our leisure, the other for sale while we are in the desert on the brink of exhaustion), to our decision to send those most dear to us, our sons, to fight our most just wars.