With all the sexed-up political storms driving the news lately, I thought I’d shift gears and indulge in a more philosophical discussion this morning…one that concerns the individualism collectivism dichotomy.
An overly simplistic way of addressing the issue is to say that on the right individualism is thought to be good and collectivism bad.
For those on the left, the opposite would be true.
Getting back to the news of the day, sex is perhaps humankind’s strongest motivator for individual achievement…why the rich and powerful are so damned horny. So, if one is clamoring for a society that’s less sexually obsessed, as many seem to be these days, they’d better embrace Bernie Sanders’ brand of collectivism over Trump’s rugged and ruthless individualism…
But I digress.
However, all of the above is really far too simple a way of looking at this issue.
Individualism in the extreme is certainly bad. On the other hand collectivism in the extreme can be equally bad, perhaps even worse.
The worse form of collectivism is totalitarian communism. I really don’t believe even the most die-hard left-wing liberal or progressive wants that.
Collectivism and individualism are values, as opposed to actual political philosophies, like socialism or capitalism. A good definition of the value of collectivism is “a cultural value that is characterized by an emphasis on cohesiveness among individuals and prioritization of the group over self.” In my mind that makes it a laudable cultural value and one that is entirely consistent with impact mindfulness.
For instance, collectivism should not prevent me, an individual, from owning a business and getting wealthy from it…
On the other hand, collectivism should indeed prevent the wealthy from “owning” a country and exploiting its resources at the expense of the whole. A phenomenon we’ve seen take place in the U.S. over the last 40 years.
The proper balance between these two competing values is very hard to achieve, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to do so nonetheless.
FDR tried and succeeded in limited ways. Bernie talks a lot about achieving it, but so far…just talk.
In my opinion, the real difference between Bernie and FDR relates to the historical times in which each campaigned and governed. FDR did so at a time when the nation was ready for collectivist-oriented change. So far, Bernie has not had that luxury.
Nevertheless, as the disaster that is the Trump presidency unfolds and brings us ever closer to the precipice of the second gilded age, with its individualism-driven excesses, we might soon be ready…
The election in Alabama today could be foretelling.
Conservatives like to couch their policy initiatives in the seducing language of individualism…it’s all done in the name of clearing a path to individual, economic, success, or so they say…
But the end result has been a collective (if you will) gathering of wealth and income at the very top of the economic pyramid…and a shrinking middle class. What we’ve gotten as a result is more individualism for the wealthy and less for the rest.
Is that result really consistent with the “value” of individualism?
An interesting article on the topic is Understanding Collectivism and Individualism – Fact/Myth. In it the author makes the following quote concerning the complexities posed by the individualism collectivism dichotomy…
There is nothing wrong with general stances on collectivism or individualism…but hardline absolutist stances that don’t consider the complexity (in my opinion) are constantly underwhelming and create unnecessary tension and misunderstanding in politics.
Unless and until we can learn to strike a proper balance between them, and avoid stigmatizing bold and perhaps good ideas with the labels that each often engenders, we will likely continue to suffer…
And our country and the world has suffered enough from the excesses of both.