I’ve heard a few times now that part of the problem in the United States regarding COVID-19 is that American individualism leads to people not caring about the collective good, leading to people refusing to take basic safety precautions like wearing masks and keeping their distance from others because THEY’RE not sick. I can buy that, although I think the word might be “selfishness” rather than “individualism.” But then, I guess I’ve never really looked into individualism as a philosophy. Even just from <a href=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualism the Wikipedia page, it’s obvious that it incorporates many different viewpoints, some pretty much diametrically opposed to each other. It is, at its core, based on the value of people as individuals, often in contrast with collectivism. While I would think individualism means valuing EVERYONE as an individual, some people use it to mean self-interest, which is kind of the opposite. Rugged individualism, as promoted by Herbert Hoover, favors self-reliance and the idea that anyone can succeed on their own, which obviously doesn’t work too well when the system already favors some over others. But then, I’m not rugged in any sense of the world (and I’m way more used to typing “Ruggedo”). There’s a lot of racism, sexism, and classism built into American society, so it’s not like everybody starts at the same place by any means. But even if that weren’t the case, there are all sorts of physical, mental, and economic reasons why not everyone is equally able to function and get ahead in life. Cooperation is an important reason as to how humanity has managed to thrive (well, relatively speaking) for so long, and ideally, the collective good should benefit individuals as well. The collective is made up of individuals, after all.
I have to say that collectivist thinking is difficult for me in a way, because I’ve rarely felt like I really belonged anywhere. But I don’t have to feel like I’m part of a group in order to do what I can to avoid hurting others. Indeed, I feel that group identities based on nation, tribe, religion, etc. often treat those OUTSIDE the group as not being part of the collective. Besides, what if someone in the group disagrees with the beliefs and traditions of the collective? And war is ultimately a very collectivist idea, because every one of the people who have to die in order to win is an individual who no longer able to pursue their own goals or fulfill their desires, yet deaths are often just spoken of as statistics. Speaking of religion, when I read the Bible, I got the sense that it has a generally anti-individual stance, especially when discussing conflict between tribes and sects. The people of Israel and Judah are shown as slaughtering entire nations, and being celebrated for doing so because their enemies worshipped the wrong god, or were bad in some other unspecified way. When I’ve discussed this with people who believed it, the answer tended to be that the entire tribe had evil practices. But how does this make every single member complicit? A lot of them are doing that because it’s all they know, and some of them probably don’t even believe the objectionable ideas. I guess they were hanging out with the wrong crowd or something. I’ve read elsewhere that this was the common way of thinking at the time.
I’m sure some of the change in this attitude is due to improvements in health and lifespan, because there isn’t much of a chance to pursue individual goals when you die of the plague at thirty. I’ve seen that more technologically developed societies often tend to be more individualistic, but I’ve already mentioned how that can mean several different things. It seems like the same people who refuse to wear masks because it curtails their freedom will often be the same ones who favor forced patriotism and religious ritual. I’ve thought of how people have recently said the economy is more important than people’s lives, which is about as far from individualism as you can get. Those saying this are often doing so for selfish reasons, but the language is very collectivist. So it’s individualism for you, and collectivism for other people? That’s really not in line with the Golden Rule.