How much choice do we really have?

Now then, dear imaginary reader, you might well find a very big flaw in my statement of the problem. If you drive, you might not even bother to read my list of the negative effects of motor traffic because you think you know what’s coming. You think that you are about to be accused of environmental crime and called upon to ditch your car. That is ridiculous, you need it. You are not a bad person. You are innocent, well-intentioned and sincere.

No, I’m not making fun – my list was genuinely not an accusation of anyone – and certainly not a personal accusation of you. I’m quite serious here and am pointing to a real issue which occurs in many other areas.

Many problems are created by behaviour which, if performed only occasionally, and/or by a small number of people, would not be a problem. But when such acts are performed frequently and/or by many people, they become a big problem. So what should you, as an individual, do? Your contribution to the problem, in quantitative terms, is negligible. If you stopped doing whatever it is, the problem would not get any better – but you would have disadvantaged yourself in order to stop doing it.

The dichotomy between the individual and the societal viewpoints can seem to choke off the possibility of doing anything. From the viewpoint of the individual, how can little ol’ you ever do anything big enough? For those who do have some power to make bigger changes, there are limits on how much they actually can force people to change their behaviour – and even tighter limits on what they can do and hope to get re-elected.

It makes no sense for individuals to act against their own interests, and yet what else do ‘society’ and ‘culture’ consist of but an aggregation of individual acts? How can anything ever change? And yet things do…


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