Why Individualism is Stupid and Wrong

Not going to bury the lead here, there’s nothing to build up to, the individualist credo that seems to be constantly gaining currency in our society is one of the most wrong-headed, misguided philosophies to ever claim that title. There have been few schools of thought to gain as much traction with the public while at the same time being so utterly worthless as an ethical system, both in moral and practical terms, and it is quite frankly astonishing to me how many people have bought into this bald-faced lie. It is a philosophy that only ever could have gained popularity in this time and place, for the simple reason that any other place or time would have seen it for the lunacy it is and rejected it immediately. The idea that we are all (or should all be) autonomous individuals with nothing but a mercantile connection to the people around is stupid at least, and sociopathic at worst, so why does anyone believe it at all? To put it simply, because it appeals to the selfish jerk in all of us by telling us that it’s OK to be a selfish jerk, in fact it’s encouraged. Of course, they don’t flat-out say you’re a selfish jerk; the trick is to point out what selfish jerks other people are in order to make it all seem justified. You’re not being a prick, you’re looking out for your own interests in a world full of people looking to take what’s yours, and you’re the good guy here. It’s all those spoiled, entitled jerks out there who are trying to live off your hard work and freeload their way through life, they’re the bad guys who need to be cut off so that society has the money to run the programs you want to keep running, right? You’ve worked hard your whole life, you earned everything you have, and nothing was handed to you. You’re a self-made man who has already given more than enough to the bums and wastrels out there leeching off the government, off your tax dollars, it’s time for you to start looking out for old #1 and let the hobos take care of themselves for a change.

Of course, in any sane society, such nonsense would be laughed out of the room as comically misguided, but unfortunately we’re not living in a sane society these days. Even though the self-made man is a creature of myth, for some people he is not only an ideal to strive towards, but at present, lived reality in themselves. They really can’t see that practically nothing of who they are is purely self-directed; they honestly believe that they are their own creators and creations at the same time. Tell them that their entire primary and secondary educations were paid for by someone else, they’ll dismiss that as irrelevant, because who we are is determined by how we thrive in the adult world, not in the little fishbowl of elementary and high school. Tell them that their post-secondary education was also paid for at least in some (likely large) part by others, and they’ll give you a similar answer. Ask them how many jobs they’ve gotten without relying on friends and family members to provide a network they could take advantage of, and that’s just using the resources available to you. Roads and other infrastructure to get to those jobs that other people referred them to and still other people educated them in preparation for, and still other people paid the teachers who educated them once their parents spent 4-5 years feeding, changing, clothing and potty training them? All paid for by those hard-earned tax dollars that the self-made rugged individualists are trying to protect from the grasping masses.

In the past, this kind of thinking could never have taken root, because you would have seen immediately that you absolutely depend on other people for your own survival and personal thriving. What’s that you say? You don’t need other people to help you, you can do it all on your own? OK then, good luck with shoeing your own horse, growing your own crops, raising your own barn and any of a million other tasks that require any number of other people to get done. I’m sure you’ll do just fine, because unlike everyone else, you are an island, aren’t you? The difference between then and now is that while all the people who helped you with your survival needs were right there in your face, today there’s a layer of technology separating you from everyone else. There really are people out there who make their living on a computer, order everything online, and never need to depend on another physically present person for years at a time. There really are people out there who depend on money for every human interaction they experience; it’s a viable way of living your life, if techno-hermit is the life you want for yourself. However, all this does is mask reality, not change its nature. On the other end of your computer, there is a real, flesh and blood human being interacting with you and delivering the things you require to get by. And let’s not forget all the people involved in keeping your computer turned on and connected to the internet 24/7, they’re actual people too. Oh, and the people who pay you for whatever goods or service it is you provide in your techno-hermitage, you sort of depend on them coming to you and giving you money for what is very likely a luxury item that could only have value in a society with sufficient advancement. Just because you don’t see the people giving you what you need doesn’t mean they aren’t there and you’re some kind of Randian superman who can live on an isolated island with all the other supermen who have no idea how to plant a garden or mend a torn pair of pants.

So here’s the reality of our situation: We all depend constantly upon the continued goodwill and cooperation of our fellow citizens, wherever we happen to live. Collectivism isn’t some horrible plot to rob from the rich and give to the poor (Remember when Robin Hood was considered a hero for doing that very thing?), it is our present, lived reality, whether we recognize it or not. “No man is an island,” isn’t just a nice bit of poetry, it is a basic fact of life; nobody gets anywhere on their own, and the sooner we all come back to that truth, the better off we all will be. Think about it, if NASA were to run its space program with the belief that the world is perched on the shoulders of four elephants that are standing on the back of a giant turtle, how successful do you think they would be in getting someone to Mars? People who run their lives on a false premise at the core of their belief system rarely do very well once reality comes around and asserts itself. Should it really come to a shock to us that the economy is in the toilet if government policy and corporate governance has been guided by such a deeply flawed idea? Want an explanation for why people are out in the streets protesting these days? It’s because they see the lie for what it is and they’re tired of hearing it preached at them day and night. It’s because they see the iceberg ahead and they want to steer us all away from it before there’s a disaster we can’t recover from. It’s because they know that we all depend on each other to get by in this world, and they’re speaking out against the lunatics trying to take control of their asylum.


25 thoughts on “Why Individualism is Stupid and Wrong

    1. A rational approach that respects individual rights without making them some sort of automatic trump card, and at the same time recognizes that we are all part of a collective society, nobody got where they are on their own, so nobody deserves what they have in an absolute sense. Basically, if you have a billion dollars, it isn’t because you worked 2 hours a week more than the single mom working three jobs to make ends meet, it’s because you won life’s lottery and she didn’t, so pretending that you somehow earned every penny of what you have while she’s just not trying hard enough is at best disingenuous.

      1. You don’t know how right you are.

        Capitalism rests on the three prongs of

        1. Private property – arbitrary. Some guy some day long ago decided that he owns something. Or a friend oh his does. Or they bought that property for 6 pence or something.

        2. Right of private parties to issue money out of nothing – arbitrary. Banks can simply conjure up arbitrary amounts of monetary units. Out of nothing. At virtually no cost to themselves. At least in comparison to the purchasing power of the money they just conjured up. All banks issue money whenever they extend a loan.

        Not just central banks. Those only issue the physical currency.

        Retail banks issue the virtual currency (by far the largest part of the money supply) through the mechanism of fractional reserve lending.

        3. Right of inheritance – arbitrary. Basically, you get property cause you came out of the right cunt. Or you lucked out on your father’s side.

        And that’s capitalism basically, the long and shor of it.

          1. I don’t read this that way, and certainly wouldn’t say that myself. People do have extensive property rights, but not absolute ones that override all other considerations to the point where society as a whole suffers because of the property rights of a small minority of its citizens.

            Theoretically, a person could gain possession of every bit of wealth in a given society through completely legal means, but would that be in any way an optimal situation for society to be in? Redistributing the one person’s wealth throughout the community might well violate his legal property rights, but that seems like it would be a much smaller harm than allowing him 100% of the community’s wealth to hoard away while the rest of his community starved. This is an extreme example intended to illustrate the problem in its sharpest terms, of course the real world is not represented here, but the principle remains true.

            Allowing huge masses of wealth to accumulate in fewer and fewer hands is detrimental to overall human society’s flourishing, so curtailing the property rights of the wealthy through methods like higher marginal tax rates seems to be more than justified. After all, to those whom much is given, much is expected; while I would never advocate a return to a feudal model, at least the concept of noblesse oblige would be nice to have around today.

  1. I don’t know that any is actually an individualist, but it is a good justification mechanism and is thus dangerous.

    1. If it’s someone go-to justification mechanism, it’s who they are. Maybe they aren’t conscious of it as a chosen philosophy, but if it’s their regular mode of thinking, does that really matter?

      1. I actually disagree with you, the justification mechanism generally obscures what do they do. Hence why it is a justification mechanism and not a lived fact, and that is it’s particularly socially damaging delusive element. It leads people to see themselves as unique beings without a context, which actually leads them to be self-blind. But as a way to maintain one’s self-delusions, it’s pretty brilliant effective.

        1. I think maybe we’re not meaning the same thing when we use the term “justification mechanism”. I was looking at it as the way in which people explain their actions to themselves in order to keep their inner narrative positive about who they are and what they’ve done. In my view, if it’s part of how you explain yourself to yourself, it’s part of who you are.

          Of course, it’s a bad faith situation, where a person is trying to make wrong into right, so in a Sartrean sense I can see how this is a false consciousness and therefore not a person’s “true” identity. Is this the direction you were going with that, or have I misunderstood your meaning again?

  2. You have an awfully skewed view of individualism. It does not state selfishness, that one individual matters more than others, but only that individuals matter more than collectives, that is, you and your neighbor matter more than categories, such as nations, races, sexes, etc.

    1. But isn’t that selfishness, by definition? If I value my own wants and needs over those of my community, is that not self-centered? It may be a perfectly justifiable selfishness in any number of cases, but taking it as an overriding principle where my needs trump everything always is the thing I’m taking issue with, as found in Randian Objectivism.

      Basically, I’m totally OK with people looking after their own needs, but not so much with people asserting an imaginary right to take all the benefits of living in society without ever giving back anything in return.

      1. Not your own, but the wants and needs of individuals, hence individualism. Put down the Ayn Rand and read some John Locke.

        “take all the benefits of living in society without ever giving back anything in return”
        That’s collectivism. Individualism means personal responsibility. Collectivism means collective responsibility.

        1. If John Locke had a political movement gaining power based on his philosophy, I’d be dealing with that; however, this is sadly not the case (I’m a Locke fan from way back, and I’d love to see a system of capitalism built on his thoughts, with some Rawls mixed in for balance.). Because it’s Rand’s insanity that’s gaining political capital in North America, it’s her brand of nonsense I choose to address. If Rand had ever come up with a thought like, “Covetousness and the desire to having in our possession and our dominion more than we have need of, being the root of all evil, should be early and carefully weeded out and the contrary quality of being ready to impart to others inculcated.” I wouldn’t be so worried about her followers gaining political power, and I wouldn’t bother writing in opposition to them.

          As for collectivism, it is the ethic that gave us the idea of “From each as he is able, to each as he has need”, but its critics always forget that these two things come in a balance, nobody is expected to give or take everything without some reciprocal exchange ever taking place. You are responsible to give what you’re able, even when you’re receiving what you need, it’s not an either/or kind of thing. The fact that government social programs have made countless mistakes in their ham-fisted attempts to implement this ethic is not the fault of the idea, any more than Locke is to blame for abusers of his writing presenting government’s primary responsibility as being the protection of personal property, full stop, with no consideration for any other element of the social contract he and Hobbes fleshed out.

  3. Nowadays media is more and more tailored to an individual, however, critical opinions are increasingly removed from the individual, people are forced to rely on groups for their “official opinions” so to speak.

  4. Personal opinion.. is it really wrong to not want to be a part of a collective group? Is it wrong to not want to be bogged down by others? Is it wrong to not want to have relationships with many save a select few?

    As a self-proclaimed individualist in a collectivistic society, it is naturally not easy for me to live with according to the culture here.. does this mean I should change myself and conform with society here instead of being myself?

    Is it really necessary to change to suit the culture around u instead of being your own self without being criticized for being who you are?

    Will your viewpoints be ignored, branded an alien opinion just because it’s different from those of the society?

    Would really appreciate any response. 🙂


    1. I think it’s perfectly fine to want to be an individual, to have a small circle of friends/family, it’s the, “I don’t owe society anything, I’m a self made man,” type who are simply being dishonest about how they got to be where they are.

      Living in society with others confers countless daily benefits no individual could ever produce for himself, what I’m saying is that a staunch individualism that denies these benefits exist fails to track with reality, it’s just wrong. In context of the individualism you’re representing, the self made man type isn’t being an individualist, he’s just being selfish in wanting to reap the benefits of living in society while giving as little as possible back.

      1. And yet, some from the same society we live in choose to compare themselves with others. These self righteous people who choose to uphold their culture while belittling and undermining others.

        A real personal experience. I was verbally put down by someone more senior on the context of being an “individualist” and not able to think as a collectivist.

        While I know that growing up in a collectivistic culture will instil some form of collectivism in you, who you are is still who you are.

        If I grow up as an individualist why should society say that my viewpoints are wrong just because it’s not the same as theirs.

        1. I don’t mean being an individual is wrong, but the ideology that anyone can go it alone to the point they don’t owe anything to anyone, ever is patently ridiculous. That idea is about not wanting to give back to the rest of society, about wanting to tell yourself that you’re some kind of self-made superman who never needed anyone, and it’s simply delusional.

          Of course people have a right to be individuals, but that has to be balanced against the endless list of benefits we all receive by living in society with other people, and the obligations that generates.

  5. Bonkers. This “article” and thread is one giant strawman and not a very creative one at that. Individualism is about protecting the rights of the individual, no matter who they are. The alternative is collectivism, where you protect the rights of a group over another group. Slavery is a collective policy. Collectivist ALWAYS justify their policies by saying it is for the “greater good”. Well who the hell decides? In 1833 the greater good was enslaving a group of people because it was said to be better for everyone, including the slaves! Collectivism is evil. You protect the rights of the individual. That doesn’t mean you abolish the estate tax or property tax or any other nonsensical strawman argument collectivist put forth. There are real reasons based in individualism philosophy for those policies. You can convince people to invest in education from an individualist perspective. You can present a better argument and a justified argument from an individualist philosophy every time. Collectivism is the root of power abuses.

    1. Apologies for the slow response, I do try to make a point of replying promptly to comments.

      I’m sorry, but you’ve got the impetus of slavery completely reversed here. Slavery doesn’t come about because a big group of people says, “Hey, let’s do this thing where most of us become human property of a small group that uses our labour to become unimaginably wealthy while we starve,” it happens when individualists decide that their property rights extend all the way to owning other people, and then take steps to enslave them. It appears you’ve mistaken oligarchs for collectivists; a mistake many individualist thinkers encourage.

      You speak of straw men, but this idea that all collectivist philosophy is the same and leads to slavery is a gross mischaracterization and oversimplification of a complex school of thought. Not to mention the fact I’m not actually arguing for a collectivist position, so adding the false dilemma to the straw man, well, let’s not get bogged down in counting fallacies, let’s look at the arguments.

      What possible argument could you give someone who believes their individual rights trump all other considerations when trying to sell them on the idea they should pay taxes for anything anyone else uses? If you try to appeal to self-interest in saying that a healthier, happier society with education, roads, and police/fire services will give them a better life too, you’re not appealing to individualism, you’re appealing to a much broader social contract theory that bears very little resemblance to the “taxation is slavery” school of thought.

      Sticking within individualism, this idea that everyone earns what they earn entirely on their own merits, and are therefor absolutely entitled to everything they own is the kind of philosophy that could only grow out of an obscenely wealthy society trying not to feel guilty about how wildly disproportionate their share of everything has become. It’s an obvious rationalization of a blatantly unjust system that oppresses people all over the globe for the sake of this handful of “self-made men”. It’s nothing more than an attempt to justify widespread exploitation of other human beings for the benefit of a wealthy elite.

      It is flatly delusional to claim that everything you have has come as a result of your own hard work, it willfully ignores the reality of what actually goes into supporting your position in the world. Your amazing new cell phone you just got for $0 with your new contract has a deep social cost you’re not paying yourself, and probably isn’t even being paid in your own country. The outsourcing of suffering has generated the comfortable life you’re trying to justify, not just your own hard work.

      Yes, obviously, people have to work hard in order to get ahead of their starting point in life, but let’s not lie to ourselves about all starting points being equal. The members of the Walton family did not have the same starting point as an orphan in sub-Saharan Africa, so the idea that they have an absolute claim to what they have based on some idea that they worked hard for the billions they inherited is lunacy. Inherited wealth on that scale bears very little difference from the concept of inherited monarchy/nobility, and I have a hard time justifying individualism on the same arguments supporting the notion of being ruled by a king and lords.

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