Privatise your Personality?

You may be reading this on your way to lunch at the Ritz, on the way to school or even in your parent’s basement like the true libertarian you are (and secretly wished everyone else was too). Whichever caricature you empathise with, there are some curiosities which unite us all. If you have ever wondered why vegans always look like vegans and why it’s always people on the centre-right that like double breasted jackets this blog post is for you.

Only kidding; I am not quite yet qualified to answer these great enigmas. Nonetheless, this blog post aims to explore why such manifestations of personality are so crucial and how they became possible. There are debts we owe to the free market for the idiosyncrasies and interests which culminate in ‘personality’ as we understand it today. Your ‘usual’ at Costa, cheeky Netflix binges and new sick obsession with the Adam Smith Institute’s Twitter page are dispositions impossible without the material wealth and choices available to us at present.

Perhaps there exists a universe where - like ants - humans are content with intrinsic values, goals and biological imperatives governing their lives. Apparently some would even like for this to be the case today, but humans in the real world live their lives in a system of trial and error which goes hand in hand with economic and personal freedom. Whilst it is often claimed that it is the Humanities and Arts, rather than the Sciences, which make the human condition their sole purpose of study, human action often operates through experiment in an intriguingly scientific way. The difference being that unlike ‘hard sciences’ such as physics we are both the subject of study and the executors of the experiment.

Just as how a good scientist would test as many independent variables as possible to examine how different factors affect the dependent variable, most people live best when they have as many choices as possible; this is the point of the system of trial and error which leads to progress. It results in choices being made either for us or us making choices we don’t fully endorse because there is little to choose from. Whilst there is not objective truth regarding human action as there is with any hard science, the element of choice allows for an almost scientific method of hypothesising, testing, and concluding; The end result is learning how to better oneself and our decisions each time. Thus it is only through increasing choices - freedom - can man fully express his personality how he wishes.

The freedom to make such choices, develop interests, and adopt attitudes stems from the abundant and (hopefully) ever-increasing time and resources available today.  Nobody can become an art history enthusiast in a primitive society where much of everyone's time is spent harvesting (not even running through) fields of wheat. Specialisation allows us to develop interests and the free time to rolick aimlessly around Christmas markets without worrying that the next harvest leaves us with no orange for the yule log. What’s more, being able to pick up the ‘Vikings’ box set at less than a day’s work at minimum wage (despite how nauseating the historical inaccuracies are) is testament to how well economic and social development correspond with each other.

Personalities are often shaped by relationships to the people around us, not just interests and material possessions. Capitalism’s ‘great enrichment’ was the catalyst to urbanisation, leading to communities in which individuals may have greater choice in their company rather than the all-too-familiar primary school situation where you realise your friends were only friends out of proximity. The theory of Dunbar’s number may still apply to cities with populations outnumbering countries, such as London. Nonetheless, a greater pool of people means it is more likely that one would find those that make them tick, those they love, and  - if they’re really lucky - those they loathe. Though in a city, of course, you can get away from those you loathe: it is much harder to do so in a primitive society where you are bound by mundane endless tasks just to maintain yourself.  

In Scandinavia, countries lauded for their levels of equality and wealth, individuals are better able to make choices they want, and the outcomes are often surprising. This has been dubbed the ‘Nordic paradox’ whereby countries such as Albania and Algeria have a greater percentage of women amongst their STEM graduates than more egalitarian societies such as Finland, Norway and Sweden. When individuals are not constrained by the need to choose a relatively high-paid STEM career, they are able to study and develop interests in fields they genuinely find more attractive.

This is merely a microcosm of the way wealth creation has created a developed society in which man is able to flourish through specialisation, and most importantly choice.

Finally, probably the best answer (fit for civilised discourse) you will get on why vegans always look like vegans and why it’s always people on the centre-right that like double breasted jackets is this: because they choose to.