Individuals v. Systems: Emergence and Social Change (Video)
The animal rights community typically focuses on individuals and individual decision-making, as the relevant locus of change. And yet a growing body of evidence shows that complex systems often have properties of their own -- so-called "emergent" properties -- that cannot be properly understood by examining individual components. So, for example, one cannot understand the behavior of a squirrel by using the tools of particle physics!
If human societies have emergent social and systemic properties, then one similarly cannot affect human social behavior by focusing exclusively on individual change. Focusing on systems, rather than individuals, leads to some important questions, such as:
- Should the movement be focused on creating public activists, or private vegans?
- Should the movement be targeting cultural norms, or individual consumer behaviors?
- How likely is it that any particular individual change, whether to a person or a business, is likely to sustain itself, if systemic properties remain static?