Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Sacred Cow....

This is one where I challenge a sacred cow in this culture....

The failure of individualism...

I'm following up on one of my statements yesterday, one major change in my worldview over the past few years.

As for self-esteem, some people may have mistaken my reasoning. Feeling okay about oneself is not the problem. There seems to be a little switch inside of us that automatically guarantees our survival and that is part of it. We do tend to think we're okay. That is what keeps us from walking in front of trucks or doing things that are completely self-destructive. I would suppose that most recovering alcoholics and addicts have responded to that internal switch and chose life over death. It is the part of us that leads us to refuse abuse and oppression.

The "self-esteem" movement is another thing entirely. It extrapolates to an automatic sense of entitlement, the ghod-given right to consider that we are all "okay", no matter what we believe or do. It is the root of political correctness, the attitude that demands that all worldviews, all lifestyles, are to be equally respected and accepted.

While I am very inclusive, there are some worldviews that are just plain unacceptable. I will never say that a white supremacist is equally worthy of respect as, say, the Dahli Lama. Call it a quirk, but I can't go there.

This leads me to the sacred cow of individualism.

I am not an individualist. People far brighter and better educated have addressed the root causes of the failure and how it has manifested in the world, particularly in the realm of economics and geopolitics. That's an area I know little to nothing about ~ but I do know that it is damaging us every single day.

It is ego-based, presupposing that I am more important than you, that my rights matter more than yours, that my relationships are based on self-interest, that this is a valid and satisfying way to live and will create more harmony than the alternative.

It presupposes that competition is a valid way to establish relationships whether it is with other individuals or with community. There is a natural hierarchy that builds, not on merit but on power. The objective is for me to have more power than you and to get it in any fashion I determine is necessary. It further presupposes that, that is the "natural order". Actually, it is not. There was life before Aristotle.

Throughout history, I think any of us would find that most societies were built on a more communal model where each member of the "clan" had his or her role in it but it is all interdependent. These societies and clans worked successfully for thousands of years.

In the ideal world, there would probably be some sort of balance where individual creativity could be honored and embraced as it should be without the negative outcomes, such as competition. However, that would take a socialization process that is very different than the one we've experienced.

This is barely scratching the surface of the topic and I might come back to it later today and fill some of this in with a bit more detail. Unfortunately, I lost track of time and have to leave in ten minutes. Hopefully, this will at least generate a bit of dialogue on the topic though. :)




Anonymous said...

Thanks for following up, as I was feeling unduly disturbed that your meaning was miscontrued.

That part of yesterday's post really hit a nerve with me because I'm in the trenches with little people who embody egoism and selfcenteredness and lately I feel like I'm losing the war.

Lucia said...

It really is SO cultural, and I think in North America, we're at the center of the I'm-more-important-than-you universe. That then translates into our country is more important than yours, and our citizens are more important than yours. (I mean, how often on the news do you hear about the 34,000+ Iraqi civilians who have been killed?

Anvilcloud said...

I guess if you say there's a "self esteem movement," I'll have to take your word for it. And if it goes where you say it goes, then that's not good. I have never looked at it in those terms but in terms of people who feel inferior because of some physical imperfection or becauase they can't do math or whatever.

As for the other thing, I think you have a very valid point. The American ethos of rugged individualism seems to result in it being the only developed country without a proper public health care system, for example. I'm not an American, but that seems to be the way of it when I gaze across the border.

The Atavist said...

Very interesting posts, these last two. I think what the problem is, is that the whole self-esteen thing as perecieved by the masses, is ridiculous and wrong. You cannot grant anyone self-esteem. If someone doesn't have self-generated self-esteem, because of values and attributes that have added value of some sort to the person in question or to his surroundings, then he doesn't and can't have self-esteem. It is instead some externally granted view that the person has intrinsic value just because he or she exists. Self-esteem means liking yourself. Even the most callow among us don't really like themselves if they are a**holes. Most strutters actually have low self-esteem, in my opinion, and they feel it necessary to posture and put on a show, knowing full-well that without the artifice they will be discounted as being shallow. What they fail to realize is that after their posturing they are perceived still as shallow, but now additionally as stupid as well.

The whole individuality issue is not at all what we have been told it is; that is a licence to be whatever we want to be, act however we wish to act, and damn the consequences and everyone around us. Nope. That's not being an individualist. That's being an inconsiderate moron. Being an individualist means accepting responsibility for everything you do as an individual. In our society, so called individualists do foolish things and the rest of society pays the prive. Real individualists pay for themesleves, make their own decisions, and recognize that the effects of their actions radiate outwards to other individuals and that constraint is necessary because of that.

You have very interesting insights, Chani. I look forward to reading more on this and other comments as well.

Susanne said...

I'm a little torn when it comes to the individualism issue.

I feel strongly that people should be able to live their full potential. I feel that people should be using their own minds and judgement. But what I see labeled as being individual these days seems to boil down to have the freedom to chose between 30 yoghurt flavors.

I wouldn't want to live in a society where I had to fit a role that makes me unhappy. But to me, as obviously to the atavist, individualism means making responsible choices. Maybe even about yoghurt.

Pam said...

Not only are we, as Lucia says, an "I'm more important than you universe" in our culture, we are a blame culture. As individuals, we are responsible for everything we do and should not be allowed to use our individuality as an excuse.

jen said...

bravo. and yes, it IS cultural. and egotistical. and means more often than not that we need to step on others in order to fulfill our own individual goals.

self-esteem movement...very interesting. community esteem?

liv said...

I fear the issue of the 'American way is the Way' mentality. What you have to say is important because an essential part of what the US west misses is that there is something powerful and deep in meaning to bow to others. To acknowledge that every perspective has value, and that each person has a voice is to truly be wise. That is part of why the 'namaste' at the end of yoga class is so important to me, and why I feel it's necessary to remind everyone of the true meaning of the word:
The Divine within me sees and honors the Divine within you. So, you see I've rambled, but peace is the message!