October 28, 2009
SOCIAL NETWORKS AND THE DEMISE OF THE DELUSION OF INDIVIDUALITY
Christakis, Nicholas & James H, Fowler, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (NewYork & London: Little, Brown, 2009) (“We see our society as a meritocracy that rewards sound choices and creates opportunities for the well prepared. The radical individualist perspective is that we are masters of our destiny, and that by making changes in everything from what we eat to how we brush our teeth, we can improve our survival chances, our mental stability, or our reproductive prospects.” “But the picture is much more complicated. Our unavoidable embeddedness in social networks means that events occurring in other people—whether we know them or not—can ripple through the network and affect us. A key factor in determining our health is the health of others. We are affected not only by the health and behavior of our partners and friends but also by the health and behavior of hundreds or thousands of people in our extended social network.” Id. at 129-130. "Embedded in social networks and influenced by others to whom we are tied, we necessarily lose some of our individuality. Focusing on network connections lessens the importance of individuals in understanding the behavior of groups. In addition, networks influence many behaviors and outcomes that have moral overtones. If showing kindness and using drugs are contagious, does this mean that we should reshape our own social networks in favor of the benevolent and the abstemious? If we unconsciously copy the good deeds of others to whom we are connected. do we deserve credit for those deeds? And if we adopt the bad habits or evil thoughts of others to whom we are closely or even loosely tied, do we deserve blame? Do they? If social networks place constraints on the information and opinions we have, how free are we to make choices?" Id. at 305. This is a very interesting book, Yet, somehow, for some reason, I shall always admire that rare individual who tries to be his (or her) own person; who can live with people but who can, just as well, live without them. That is, I shall always admire out-of-network individuals. Freedom, autonomy, and individuality (as well as the idea of being responsible for who you are, what you think, and what you do) may be illusion (or delusions) only, but they are important and useful illusions (delusions). Without them, we are just gloried laboratory rodents.).