Fatbergs, pandemics, and the problem of not caring

Maybe as long as ten years ago, I heard about the problem of items and fat accumulating in the sewage system, forming what is known as fatbergs. However, more than just being the problem of the infrastructure - of the state - a similar build-up in plumbing threatens the homes of those causing the problem, so they ought to care.

This problem was always the problem of the individual, in the sense that individuals are causing the problem by what type of waste they attempt to wash away and in the sense that ultimately it will have repercussions for the individual if the infrastructure suffers. However, is it possible that the threat to individual homes is somewhat exaggerated? Authorities sometimes exaggerate or even lie in order to move individuals to action, where they were unmoved by the plight of the collective.

Your country needs you

In the past, it was possible to move people to action through patriotism or some notion of the collective good. The call to do something for your country was one that could motivate people. As the appeal of selfish individualism grew globally, likely through the spread and normalisation of American popular culture, appeals to national wellbeing may have fallen on increasingly deaf ears.

As a result, we now have people in countries like Britain, who fundamentally cannot grasp that problems affecting the state and the infrastructure could have any effect on them. They instead view the state as an unwelcome and intrusive authority, whose problems don't concern a citizen - some sinister big brother with his own agenda.

The ability to maintain infrastructure such as roads and the sewage system, and the ability to provide emergency and medical services are things anyone can scoff at and say they don't need them. Maybe they have a big off-road capable car, so they don't need the roads. Maybe they have experience of camping in the wild, so they don't need the sewage system. Maybe they carry guns and first aid kits, so they don't need the police or any medical workers. Such a person is rare, and they likely still are dependent on something maintained by the state, without being aware of it. The point of this post, though, is not to deride libertarianism or minarchy; most of the work done by states could hypothetically be provided by non-states in a possible future. The point is that many people bafflingly believe a problem isn't theirs until it directly affects them.

You don't need your country?

In the case of the selfish individualist, they soon realise they need a hospital if their child becomes ill, but most of the time this isn't happening, so reading about hospitals closing down probably doesn't bother them. They hear of other people's children getting ill, but their own child seems very healthy, so they don't need hospitals. This kind of thinking is exactly the problem.

Governments do not manage your life, but manage the lives of millions of people. As such, you can say you don't care what the government wants, but the state is built in such a way that you will suffer the consequences of that attitude if the infrastructure and services break down. The state won't be so rude as to say it does not care about you, but it indeed does not care, and it suffers no consequences for that attitude. Although your life ends with you, the state's life continues with everyone else, so it will always be more concerned about the wellbeing of the collective than an individual's sob story. This is at the heart of the debate over the current pandemic and the issue of vaccinating the population.

An immunised population

The state wants the population vaccinated against this pandemic. It is absolutely sensible, from the point of view of those authorities who manage millions of lives, to do what is best for that mass of people, including those millions who are vulnerable to disease. For an individual with no medical disorder putting them at risk, however, the state's goal appears intrusive.

You, you may say, are not individually at risk. But, the state retorts, what of one person's risk to others? And what of the risk of failing to efficiently manage the health of many millions of people? What of the risk to the medical services, if they should fail? 'Not my problem,' you may then say.

Then, enter the exaggerations and (possibly) the lies.

Noble lies

The state's advocates, being tasked with the health and wellbeing of millions of people rather than the comfort of the individual, are pushed to be economical with the truth in order to convince the individual to do something. If people are too selfish to see the value in any kind of collective or state wellbeing, it is inevitable that authorities will eventually try to convince them that their individual wellbeing is more at risk than it really is.

None of this should be necessary, but it seems as though it is. We are faced with the modern citizen's immature selfishness, poseur individualism and anti-establishment bias, all accidentally inspired by the American global pop culture.