Monday, August 4, 1997

Week of 08/04/1997

The Battle Over Individualism
- by David Matthews 2

It seems with ever increasing intensity, there is a campaign being waged against the individual. Conservatives, liberals, politicians, theologians, teachers, professionals, laymen, from every corner there seems to be this endless tirade against what some people call "rugged individualism."

So you’re probably asking "WHAT IS rugged individualism?" Good question.

Basically, anything associated with you as an individual has been tagged as being part of "rugged individualism." If you believe in your PERSONAL rights, you’re called a "rugged individualist." If you believe that people should be responsible for their actions, then that’s being a "rugged individualist" too. Free speech? Same. Support a fair and equal tax system like a flat tax? Ditto.

The second question you should ask is "WHY is being an individual being demonized?" And indeed, that is what’s going on.

There are various rationalizations behind them, and all of them have to do with one common thread - the importance placed by these groups of COMMUNITY over the individual. Conservatives love to talk about family values or community values. Liberals love to talk about things in the larger scope, such as the environment, or relations with a certain minority group. Communists and tyrants will, of course, talk about "protecting society and maintaining order."

Their strengths rest in the notion of something larger than you the individual having superiority over you. They are essentially telling you "YOU are irrelevant! This group, this community, this society, this nation, this world is more important than you!" They consider individuality to be a luxury, and the individual to be nothing more than a tool for them to use.

Let’s accept the realization that no man is an island unto themselves, unless you can afford to be an island. We need some rules for society for the simple reason that if we don’t, we’ll end up killing each other. That, I think, is the simplest definition of government’s role - to make sure we don’t kill each other. It’s in how to implement that role that we all seem to have a problem with.

Individuality is something that has been scorned for centuries. Our identities have been wrapped around something external - a family name, the group we belong to, the town or community we live in, the state we’re born in, the people we associate with, even our occupation. And there is nothing more scornful than having those things altered on a regular basis. Just ask someone who has moved into a small towns in the past and I’ll tell you it sucks being considered just an "outsider."

Of course, now those external forms of identification are being removed en masse. Our identity as part of a family is being challenged because of divorce and a constantly altering family structure of stepparents and stepchildren and child custody. Our identity as who we are in the workforce is also being challenged because of the shift away from permanent employment to a temporary workforce. Because there is no such thing as job security anymore, we have to consider ourselves more on what we can provide in the workplace compared to where that workplace is. That is also having a domino effect on our identity in the groups we associate ourselves with and with the town we live in. A new job can very well mean a new location to move to. And remember, the average American will change jobs at least TEN times!

Make no mistake here folks, being considered as an individual IS a scary concept to some people. There is truth in the saying "there is safety in numbers." Safety in that you won’t have to worry about run the risk of being wrong. Comfort in not having to face challenges alone. Indeed, I suspect the rise in religion is a side-effect of this transition, since all other forms of identification are being purged on a regular basis. With the concept of being identified as an individual a horrifying one, many would turn to the last collective bastions that haven’t changed - that of organized religion, and government.

And yet, I feel now is the perfect time for individuality to emerge. There is strength in individuality as well. Strength in personal convictions. Personal ethics that are more than just "following the herd," but rather acting by conscious decision. Strength in personal responsibility, which is more than just finger-pointing and assessing blame, but rather taking command of your life. We’re not talking about a "me first" attitude but rather an "it’s up to me" mentality. These people need to be encouraged, and their qualities exemplified. Instead, however, they are being scorned by groups who tell them they are irrelevant.

It’s funny in that when I was a child, my parents gave me the "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?" speech. Today we’re being told the answer is "Yes." The call of the herd mentality is being drummed into us at all corners, telling us that obedience is more important than conscious decision, that it’s better to submit than to agree, and that you personally are irrelevant.

By the way, this message of an all-important collective is being drummed into our skulls by INDIVIDUALS.

No comments: