The Absurdity of Individualism in Modern Times…

Just a quick observation to keep me writing.

I was taking a walk the other day and I was thinking about the individualist bent of U.S. culture, and I was thinking specifically about libertarians and Ayn Rand types, and the more I thought about it, the more baffled I got.

I mean, it’s really just silly. It’s one thing if someone is literally living on a piece of land, growing their own local food, bartering fair prices for everything, and thus they think any kind of social program, or taxes, or whatever is taking from their own hard work. This could be a passable excuse for individualism.

But that’s not our modern society! The global capitalism that individualists themselves celebrate is one of the most socially integrating forces in world history! It is based on complex and minute connections and relationships between people all over the globe. The idea that almost any product, or any piece of infrastructure comes from the “sweat” of any one person’s “brow” is just ridiculous.

We are social beings. And advanced societies are incredibly intricate engines of social relationships. Ever piece of food, every road, every piece of media is not only produced by multiple people, but it is rooted in the historical legacy and accumulated productivity of millions. Right now, every single thing surrounding me was built and shaped by thousands of human hands and minds (and probably lives lost). Any philosophy that doesn’t take that into account–and that stay’s with simplistic Locke-style references to “fruits of a man’s labor”–is simply intellectually bankrupt.

Take the idea of privatization. The very idea of privatization is based on the individual human being, in that the creativity and passion and innovation of an individual person is much more powerful than groupthink and collectivism. Hmmmmm. Interesting. Because in practice privatization has nothing to do with anything private. It’s the turning over of one kind of collective property (belonging to the public or State) to a different kind of collective property that is shared less equally, but nonetheless collectively (among shareholders). What is going on here?! What is more collectivist and groupthink than the kinds of brand identification and bureaucratic structures that exist in corporate America? How foolish.

Seriously, next time I get in a discussion/argument with an individualist I think I’m just going to have to go off about how absolutely nonsensical this supposed bedrock American value actually is.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the power of individual human beings. I think we are incredible! But I will never forget the social context from which our individual beauty and power come from. Language itself is a fluid social construction that is maintained across generations ONLY because of human interaction and connection. An individual can write incredible, heartshaking poetry, can make me cry and yearn and scream…and that writer owes their words to the thousands of people who have nurtured her/him with conversation for years! And even more, the beauty and relevance of that poem to me is precisely because of our shared social context, language, and life experiences that gave us a similar artistic sensibility. When we start talking about land and labor and economies, the social argument becomes even more clear.

We are beautiful alone precisely insofar as we are beautiful together. Anyone who thinks they’ve found their uniqueness or their specialness only because of their distance from the “mediocrity of the crowd” has to be careful…not only do they owe that crowd their lives, but also their words.

We should be present with what has made us, and celebratory of what we in turn can make. But when we start separating ourselves from our roots…that’s when hubris and corruption form…and to me pure individualism is nothing but hubris and corruption.

Please, if any of you few who read this are individualists, comment so we can keep talking about this.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi