The internet seems profoundly obsessed with individualism. People harp on it to no endless degree, promising the wonderful gifts of “financial independence,” self-determination, and purposeful existence. Others present rather basic ideas as miraculous truths, developing followers who aggressively preach the merits of self, while suspiciously eyeing “collectivism” and its assorted malevolence. If cooperation is so much as suggested, these creatures leap to the defensive plane, accusing their opponents of endorsing socialism, or subverting the dignity of liberty. They rush to protect the individualism tribe, and gain immense satisfaction from such fulfilled duty.
A most apt question here would be: why? Once we peel back the outraged drama and look at actual human behavior, the stark individualism of people is manifested in an exaggerated manner which rises to frustrate the suggestion of our aforementioned friends. If anything, society is far more dedicated to the illustrious self than the promoter wishes to imagine.
Suppose for example one is going to purchase a car. Perhaps they will buy something to impress people in close communion with them, or even take friendly advice on the matter. More often than not however, the decision is driven by personal (read: individual) qualities. It could be a beater model, chosen because that chap can’t afford something on the pricier side, or possibly a vehicle which “matches my personality.” Never mind how those folks typically say they are focused and reliable whilst buying a Chrysler; the point remains as an individualistic contention.
Colleges and living spaces are similarly outlined. If it is financially viable, or happily debt-fueled, highschoolers will typically choose an institution with the appropriate program to match their personal interests, preferably in a state or country with enjoyable backdrops. Sure, the skeptic could argue that most college institutions have a Marxist hive mind, but at least in theory the students are exercising a degree of independence and personal choice. Once they graduate, certain cities might hold appeal for the diversity and nightlife, while others retreat to the country roads. Are these normal patterns of human behavior all reflections of some collectivist conspiracy?
Even the push for FIRE lifestyles on the internet dot com invariably leads to more self-centeredness and LESS focus on the community. The act of budgeting away little things like the morning coffee or diner breakfast to save money diminishes the chances of interacting with others and supporting a local (or chain) business. Another clear and present theme in the financial-digital realm is the emphasis on not having kids in order to retire early. As far as the checkbook side of things is concerned, this makes perfect sense; why would anyone reproduce if the cost of raising one child can be as much as $233,000, not counting college? Yet somehow we are not individualistic enough.
Perhaps the real issue is more complicated. We already are highly individualistic, and well-adapted for a consumer capitalist society, but this is not adequate. Instead of people finding meaning in family and community, which have been stained by the collectivist shackles, they turn to some higher level of individualism for salvation. Just a little more self-improvement, positive mindset-building, and financial freedom. Then I’ll be a REAL individual. So Able Earnest proclaims, as his life becomes emptier by the waking second.
This concept collides with Emile Durkheim’s idea of the anomie, or disconnection of individuals from social standards and economic systems commonplace in advanced societies. It develops as a “malady of the infinite,” where the person in question constantly desires more, but cannot be satisfied in the confines of his social system, leading to derangement or possibly suicide. Likewise, modern neoliberal cultures fixate on meritocracy and individualism, while suppressing the value inherent to Bilbo’s “home above gold” or group solidarity versus individualism.
But I’m just a jealous collectivist, so pay no mind.