A question that has long plagued me is whether we, as a species, have evolved in our consciousness of our interconnectedness to one another.

Influential philosophers, writers, economists and politicians have debated whether that should be our focus in the first place. Writers such as Ayn Rand (“The Fountainhead”) and her followers have suggested that our center of attention should not be “interconnectedness” at all, but rather an ideal world of rugged individualism. In Rand’s universe, progress can only be measured by the standard of an unfettered free market. On the other side of this debate are philosophers such as Charles Taylor (“The Ethics of Authenticity”) who would agree with my original query. Taylor suggests that we are all intimately connected and need to appreciate first and foremost our responsibilities to society at large.

When examining these two positions, we could also describe them as social optimism and social pessimism. The social optimists are those who embrace the belief that people are intrinsically altruistic and care about the greater good. Pessimists, on the other hand, believe that people are naturally selfish, caring only about maximizing their own self-interest.

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Although the gulf between these two theories appears wide, they do share a common feature. They both trust in the idea of human progress even if they differ on the mechanism used to get us there and the standard by which it can be judged. Their interpretations of “progress” center on their diverse views of “freedom.”

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