Furthest Right

Individualism Versus Independence


Metaphor teaches us across time. Humans can visualize everyday experience, where abstraction is beyond the reach of most, and the words used to convey it are eroded by dishonest people — the majority of humans — over the years. And so today we look into a fundamental human division using simple stories.

This division separates individualism from independence. In the first, human intention must be in control of the the entire situation in which it finds itself; in the second, it is content to take part in the wider interaction, like a brightly colored thread woven into a tapestry of many other colors.

Individualism arises from fear and leads to control because of that fear. It is the idea that no individual can be left out, because each individual wants to take part, and therefore all must be treated the same. Independence is more complicated; it allows people to do whatever they want, so long as they are working together toward the same goal.

Now to see what that looks like in daily life:

Classroom: Individualism

Teacher wants every student to participate in the same activities so that the class can go on to the next activity. This allows her to plan the week easily. And so, when the clock strikes nine, every student gets out the crayons and starts to do a drawing exercise. She tells them what to draw, so that they can draw simple things first and later move on to more complicated ones.

If a student stops doing the exercise, or will not start, they are considered to have failed it or to be a discipline problem, and she sends them to the principal.

The day is divided into activities. No time is wasted! They draw for an hour, take a little break, then go on to the next activity. Students are kept constantly busy.

No one is excluded. If a student cannot draw, Teacher sits with the student and teaches him how to move the pen and draw circles. Any drawing is acceptable, even if it is merely scribbles and smears. No drawing is better than any other.

However, Teacher is very happy to show drawings at the front of the class of two types: ones that she likes, and ones that the class voted on. This week, Teacher has chosen a drawing by a girl that shows a perfectly symmetrical house with a single flower and a sun above. The class has chosen a drawing by a boy that shows a favorite character from a story or song.

The advantage of this class is that no one is left behind. Everyone can participate, and each is rewarded equally, including with a chance in the popularity lottery. Teacher prides herself on how orderly her classroom is and how fairly the children are treated.

Parents love this class because it is “fire and forget.” Teacher ensures that their child will have the minimum competence necessary for that year.


Classroom: Independence

Teacher in this classroom views her role as ensuring that every student has the resources required to succeed, if that student wants. This leads to a more Darwinian approach: some will rise by their own initiative.

Much as in the other class, there are activities. However, Teacher views her role as answering the questions of students doing the exercise, and removing those who cannot do it to the corner, where they can play with blocks. Some students leave this class at the end of the year with no idea how to do basic things.

The advantage of this classroom is that the children who are more adept at certain tasks are not held to the same level as others, and those who are less able get extra attention if they are trying but having troubles. Those in the middle, Teacher observes, always do about the same thing and do it the same way, so simply providing them with paper and crayons and saying that it is time to draw accomplishes about the same result as any other approach.

Students are allowed more time for independent projects. This means that half of the class plays with blocks, and the rest explore drawing, reading, math or exploring the natural area outside. If a student is interested in a particular topic, Teacher answers questions and provides the option for an independent project that is not graded. The only reward is the experience.

As long as students are working toward the same long-term goal, which is knowing how to have skills and understand the world, Teacher is happy. She views herself as teaching best when students ask her how to do something, so she can help them past bumps in the road on their path to learning.

Parents hate this class because it requires them to take an active role in their child’s education, or be content with a child who knows only how to play with blocks.

On the surface, individualism seems like the right thing. No one is left behind, so you will not be left behind. The high cost of this however is that everyone gets the same thing, and people are not the same, so everyone is dealing with an inflexible, utilitarian role when they need something fitted to who they are.

Independence on the other hand makes no promises and offers no illusion of control. Some will rise, most will stay at about the middle, and some will fall. However, none have to wait for others to catch up, and people can pursue their own directions, allowing order to emerge organically instead of forcing it upon the group from above.

The great secret of our time is that individualism is collectivism, utilitarianism and conformity. Each individual wants to be included, so the only possible answer is treating everyone the same, a condition known as universalism. That however mainly sabotages individuality and the ability to excel.

In addition, it makes people miserable by forcing them through rote procedure which is mostly tedium. It also separates the goal of power of from its role as leadership, because now power is interested not in the welfare of its citizens, but in keeping them equal. It therefore tends toward authoritarianism and tyranny.

Our understanding of this issue is buried under many misdirections, illusory assumptions and distractions because most people are so terrified of life and biased toward thinking that nature and life are terrible that they follow the notion of “equality” (individualism) like a New Age cult. Then when it fails, they rationalize the fail and double down.

If our society is going to get anywhere in the short term, it will be through throwing off individualism and seeking independence. If it is to do so in the long term, it will be by finding a goal through which we can align our independences, such as the goal found in culture, aristocracy, hierarchy and transcendental purpose.

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