The World Values Survey has been measuring the evolution of societies for 30 years. It maps the values on two dimensions: 1) traditional versus secular-rational values (less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable.); and 2) survival and self-expression values (priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life).
The more a society moves from the traditional/survival dimension to the secular-rational (/self-expression dimension the more individual independence and self-direction occurs in that society.
History shows how far we have come. Since 1921 the Anglosaxon world moved from a traditional society to one sitting at the cross road of secular-rational values and increased self-expression.
Individualism of the past has been described as the “gentlemen retreating to the library in order to retreat on the self”. Individualism of today is about dynamism, speed, instant change and gratification, short termism and self-reinvention. Yet, this kind of individualism reduces “social capital such as networks, norms, and trust, that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefits.”
In essence social capital needs a focus on the ‘We’. Trust is a key ingredient for social capital development in society. Trust in people occurs more fully in societies with high self-expression and high secular-rational values. Social capital also shows that for a functioning society we need healthy individualism with a collective long term focus for mutual benefit. In fact, society leaders who do not focus on social capital create increased dysfunction, toxic and destructive energy in the national system.
Australia is in a big transition to higher secular-rational values scale due to the knowledge economy. Many individuals are making this transition, but a majority of our population hold on to traditional values. The question arises for leaders: How to develop the nation? Are we going upward or downward? And this largely depends on how society’s leaders develop and evolve, the language they use, and how bigoted they are.