What Happened to the Individual?Over the past couple of years, we have seen a profound attack on individual agency, autonomy and attitude. The powers that be seems to think shifting society is done via "communities" and group think. It's gross.
When I was growing up there was lots of love for individualism. It was not simply a right-wing conspiracy to value individuals, many on the left had narratives supporting individuality. Indeed, the idea of the self-made person who rose from difficult circumstances and advanced in life through education and hard work was as much an example of the left as it was "the right". Perhaps, more so.
The adulation of individualism was everywhere.
Whether you were playing sport, striving to become a painter or writer, or pursuing a professional career, it was desirable to support and to express your unique personality and perspectives.
It was individual achievement, the aspiration to be as good or as great as your heroes, that propelled so many people on to do what they did.
Individual resilience, perseverance, and hard-work were attributes of good people. The idea of hard-work, learning, and growth were all sound behaviours that were encouraged in literature, music, arts and performance.
When I was growing up, you had shining examples of individual achievement. This would be in literature with great figures like Booker T Washington or Thoreau or Tolstoy. In politics with Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Junior. In sport with Magic Johnson or Michael Jordon. Or in music with Bob Marley or Jim Morrison or Bruce Springsteen.
Even Bob Dylan was singing that "it is not he or she or them or it; That you belong to."
So what's happened?
I'm not sure when it happened. And even less sure as to why it happened.
Maybe it was when people realized that computer technology was massive and that computers would be the most interesting thing to talk about. Was it technology that crushed the need for individuals?
With a flattening resonance where no one really stands out, but all compete for attention by yelling and abusing people, could it be the 'all-at-once' noise and information you get online?
Could it be the rise of identity politics, where everyone needed to identify with a group, and it became no longer cool to be an individual? Indeed, being an individual meant, according to the new left, that you subscribed to a right wing ideology of free markets, greed, and every dog for themselves?
The talk of individuals became replaced with the talk of communities. 'Communities of color', 'the lesbian community", "the boat owner's community", "the let's do brunch on Sunday with a latte community".
Of course, much of this could be unintentional and people just prefer to be part of a community.
I certainly don't.
I want that old time individualism back. And for good reason.
The foundational idea of individualism that it doesn't matter what you look like or who you associate with, but that the individual is unique, different, and has their own life experiences.
The attack on individualism is also the attack on experience. If you are part of a group, you don't need to have your own subjective take on the world. You just seep into the collective. And this is how loads of 'communities' would love us to be.
You'll own nothing, and be happy! You'll experience nothing, and you'll be happy!
As experience is a large part of what makes up the individual - this idea of limiting experience - should be a worry us individuals.
It's a dark time. We need again to reassert our individuality.