The Paradox of Individualism

Originally written in July 2012

I am against individualism. So much so that in many heated discussions about politics and morality I don’t even recognize an individual. There’s no individual. individual doesn’t matter at all. There’s only the collective. The society. When I say such things, obviously, on the surface it looks as if I am against the welfare of individuals which, naturally, to many feels unfair and counter-intuitive. What good is the society if the individuals who comprise it are not recognized, respected, given freedom, right? Wait a minute. Answer this question: What emerged first, human dignity or society?

Are we really free? Do we really have a right to live the way we like without being harmed by others? Do we intrinsically deserve respect and dignity? Or it has become possible only after we developed a civilized society? What would life have been prior to the society in the state of nature?

Individualism is an enemy of the very thing it purports to celebrate. It does not make an individual free, it kills freedom.

Animals in a jungle are perfect individualists. They own themselves. They act according to their own whims. They don’t have to follow any rules or abide by any law against their will. There is no one in their world who dictates how everyone ought to live. They are free of duties and responsibilities. Thus, a jungle is a real utopia for the supporters of individual freedom. Or is it?

In a jungle, life has no value and only power rules. That is precisely because animals don’t come together to form a society with cooperation and acceptance of social roles and responsibilities. They don’t form laws and take it upon themselves as a moral ought to live in accordance with them. They don’t live in the interest of the whole jungle but are committed to their own animal interests. The fact that animals lack the capacity to form a civilized society is beyond the point. The point is: each for himself is the way animals live in a jungle. And their existence is far from pleasant.

Individualism can’t lead to anything else but anarchy, the jungle rule, as the natural consequence. If all I think about is my own welfare then what incentive would my neighbor have to ever help me with anything, knowing that I am never going to act in their interest? If everyone in the world is individualist then isn’t it quite logical that no one has any motivation to act to benefit others, because everyone knows that their favors are never going to be rewarded?

A perfectly individualistic society is where everyone is looking after their own interests. And because no one is interested in enabling others’ welfare no one extends their care beyond themselves, not caring about the state of the society as to how their actions affect the society, the environment and so on. Because of this, living conditions undergo degradation and it becomes harder and harder for the individuals to satisfy their interests. Since individuals satisfy their interests by harnessing/exploiting their social environment (which is degrading because of individualism) soon that leads to dog-eat-dog situation. Then the life of pursuit of one’s interests becomes a battle. And in battle, it is clear that only the powerful would succeed. Exactly what happens in the jungle!

This is the paradox of individual freedom. If we strive for individual freedom alone, we will never have it. We will lose whatever we have of it, even. It’s only by thinking in terms of betterment of the collective that we all can hope to benefit and get to the world where human beings have respect, dignity and freedom (in limited sense, of course). We do have freedom, but it’s not our natural right or anything like that. We enjoy freedom precisely because we have formed a society which is based on a mutual agreement to cooperate in the sense of living with acceptance of civic duties responsibilities. Call it a positive paradox of giving up your interests.

If we think deeply over it, we don’t really have to give up our interests but understand that the only interests we can practically have in the long run are the collective interests. If you live in the interest of all, and everyone else is living in the same way, then that would automatically create a world where everyone’s interests are taken care of by everyone. The world of sharing and caring. Everyone then feels respected and treated with dignity. The very popular notion that human beings deserve respect and dignity is a product of this arrangement – only that now we have taken it for granted that we deserve it just because we are humans. That’s such a misguided notion! Our ancestors have worked to earn it and we have to work if we wish to maintain it.

Stop being individualists and think in terms of family, community, society, the world. Do what is good for the collective. That’s the only way to preserve our dignified individual selves. If we kept fighting for individual rights and freedom to live as one pleases without regard to anyone else, as the media- and market-driven world is doing today then in the future human life will have less and less value.

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