I suspect modern individualism is a cultural artifact rather than being inherent to human nature. It was taken to an extreme with Western Civilization and in particular capitalism, but it seems to have it’s origins with the Axial Age. Julian Jaynes proposed the theory that earliest literature such as from the Greeks doesn’t show signs of individualism as we know it. Modern individualism is based on the idea of an objective world of objects, but early humans experienced the world animistically.
I’ve noticed that the objective world of objects is particularly appealing to conservatives. Many conservatives use capitalism as a metaphor for all of life. They see life as a meritocracy where everything has to be earned. They see the fundamental fact of life is ownership where all the world can be owned and where people even own themselves and can sell themselves to the highest bidder. According to this view, anything that doesn’t have monetary value has no ‘objective’ value.
I’ve been in a number of arguments with conservatives who believe individualism is the basis of all reality. Their ultimate argument is perceptual. They see a world of separate individual objects including humans, but they don’t seem to be able to see their own cultural biases. Many conservatives seem less aware of factors that are subjective and intersubjective which has always bewildered me. I’ll bring up social science research, but to many conservatives such research seems irrelevant or somehow missing the point. To me, it just makes sense.
Even though I don’t think individualism is inherent to human nature, I do think there are psychological predispositions that make one more likely to accept the cultural biases of individualism. For example, Ernest Hartmann has done research on boundary types. Thick boundary types tend to experience the world in terms of separation: between themselves and others, between waking and sleeping, between past and present, etc. They have minds that tend to narrowly focus excluding everything outside of that focus.
Conservatives tend to mistrust the subjective and the intersubjective, the abstract and the theoretical. They tend to trust what is practical, concrete and tangible. They tend to want fundamental truths and rules.
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The first video about individualism seemed to have some connection to another video I just watched. In the following video, UFOs are discussed in terms of perception of reality. Maybe part of the connection I sensed relates to Jung’s having written a book about UFOs in terms of mandalas as a symbol of the self. Jung saw UFOs, whether real or imaginary/imaginal, as being manifestations within human experience of a symbol of wholeness.
This is part of Jung’s theory on individuation. Modernism has created an individual sense of self that is disconnected from the world. The fears brought on by globalization and world wars has forced a creative tension where the human psyche is seeking a new experience of wholeness.
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I have one last point. All of this isn’t just philosophizing about humans and society. There is obvious relevance to politics, economics, and environmentalism. The latter I pointed out in a post about capitalism having failed in the past in terms of taking into account the values and costs that aren’t easily measured by ‘objective’ and monetary standards.
There are collective costs to modern civilization that require collective solutions. This isn’t idealistic. I just came across this next video which explains the practical potential of collaboration. The competitiveness of individualism is no longer working, if it ever did work, now that populations have become so large and concentrated and now that diverse societies have become so interrelated.
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Here are some posts that relate in various ways to the above videos and comments:
Filed under: Psychology, science, Sociopolitical | Tagged: Axial Age, boundary types, collectivism, conservatism, empathy, Ernest Hartmann, individualism, Julian Jaynes, liberalism, perception, Psychology, science, thick boundary, thick boundary type | Leave a Comment »