Wednesday, October 9, 2019

#282 / Unit Of Analysis

The picture above is part of an advertisement that seeks to interest young people in investing their money in Exchange-Traded Funds. I was directed to the advertisement when I clicked on the "Read More" link I found in the following graphic: 

That graphic, from the Vanguard investment company, was a pop-up ad that appeared in the middle of a story I was reading in the online version of The Washington Post. Diana Lok, quoted in the pop-up ad, is the person in the middle of the picture at the top. "Home ownership" is Diana's dream. 

What struck me as I read the pop-up ad from The Post was that Diana is thinking about the future in individual terms. Whether or not she will achieve her dream of homeownership is going to depend, the way she sees it (or the way Vanguard presents it, anyway), on Diana's individual ability to make good investment decisions. 

This is, of course, a very common way to analyze the realities in which we are all enmeshed. We think individually first. When the "unit of analysis" is the individual, everything falls on us, individually. 

However, we are not only individuals. We are also members of a community. We are, in fact, members of a lot of different communities. We can also analyze our situation from a "collective" or "community" perspective. 

It is important for us to realize that - and particularly if we don't have a lot of individual financial resources. Obviously, Vanguard wants to connect up with persons who do have significant financial resources, so Vanguard can get control of their money. Vanguard will make money as it helps Diana (she hopes) make money, too. 

I am advocating that we should change our default "unit of analysis" from an individual to a community perspective. This is, incidentally, exactly the prescription advanced by UCSC Professor Emerita Donna Haraway, in a talk she gave to Crown College freshmen on October 3, 2019. Speaking about her article, "Awash in Urine," Haraway said that she has come to realize that "the smallest unit of analysis is a relationship."

If we dream of homeownership, as so many do, we should be thinking how everyone might realize that dream. I am not speaking "morally," but practically. To realize the dream of homeownership, a collective approach may well be the best and most effective approach we can use. The issue, in other words, is a "political" as well as a "personal" challenge.

If we accept that, then the question is what "unit of analysis" can help us, individually as well as collectively, achieve our dreams. That question, about what "unit of analysis" should drive our political decision-making, is actually what the 2020 elections are all about. 

"Democratic socialism," a term that will be used against the presidential candidate who embraces it (that's Bernie Sanders, for those not paying attention), is really a proposal that we need to analyze and operate our national policies from a collective or community perspective, as opposed to the relentlessly individual perspective that is the way our politics is most typically practiced. When we change the "unit of analysis" in that way, we will then be trying to make sure that the benefits of our productivity are broadly shared - collectively - instead of simply individually realized. This actually makes sense (even individually) since it is absolutely and unquestionably true that we are, in fundamental ways, not facing life on an individual basis. We are in this life together.

Want to know another reason we need to change our default "unit of analysis" (besides making the dream of homeownership come true for Diana and all those many others who share that dream)? Here's the answer:

Global Warming

The future of life on Earth depends on a fundamental reorientation in our thinking. We need to change our default "unit of analysis" and then act accordingly. That's not just a nice idea.

It's a matter of survival!

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