Second Nature Home > Short Essays by Dan Bruiger >

Genuine Individualism

Humanist values favored the individual over the collective, and competition over cooperation. Personal satisfaction is central to individualism, and is now so taken for granted in the West that it is difficult to view human institutions as having any other goal than furthering individual happiness. Cooperation is ideologically suspect as a limit upon individual enterprise. Ironically, the rhetoric of individualism underwrites an undemocratic, inegalitarian class structure that is highly satisfying to a few, moderately satisfying to some, but decidedly unsatisfying to many others. Individual satisfaction, when it does not coincide with general fulfillment, can only mean parasitism. It is to avoid the inconvenient realization of this simple truth that society accepts ideas of class, racial superiority, and the myth that anyone—but not everyone, of course—can strike it rich. In contrast, traditional societies were more naturally cooperative and egalitarian, with property held in common. While individualism may have instigated movements for equality in modern history, it is not in itself a stable force for equality. Hence, the interests of the individual often appear to be opposed to those of the collective, and egalitarianism has come to be associated with a strong collectivity disfavoring individual rights. It is as though the only way to insure equality is by suppressing the individual’s desire to rise above others! But this may simply speak for modernity’s obsession with material things, and our blindness to expressions of individuality that do not involve struggling to have more than one’s fellows.

RELATED TAGS: [humanist value, individual over/versus collective, true/genuine/profound individualism, limit to consumerism, consumer individualism, equalitarian/egalitarian society, egalitarianism, non-materialism, individual expression, co-opting of individualism]

© Copyright Dan Bruiger 2008. All rights reserved.