This article is prompted by my dissatisfaction with what I feel was an incomplete explanation of the interplay between the Expanded Self and what I wrote about in The Indictment of Potential, something I’ll call Post-Individualism. On that note, today, we’re going to go in depth and attempt to solve what I see as one of the primary problems with modern culture- the seeming paradox that exists between humans as social animals and our identity as individuals, or perhaps even our lack of identity as individuals. Along the way, we’re going to look at the larger systemic issues that push us towards identity fragmentation, neotribalism, and how we may be able to move forward.
Let’s get it.
First, we’re going to begin with a hypothesis- I think that the individualism of modern times is the antithesis of the past’s collectivism, meaning that I anticipate a synthesis of the two. It’s this synthesis that I’m seeking here, so bear this in mind.
I do want to note that this is a dangerous game to play, because the horrors of collectivism are pretty well documented- 100 million dead from Communism, six million dead from the Holocaust, the Holodomor, the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides, and sadly, many, many more. I’d even argue that on the surface, it seems that individualism is inherently safer than collectivism, but that implies that it’s a zero sum game, which it rarely is.
[A warning, as with The Indictment of Potential, those who lean libertarian are probably going to recoil against what I’m writing about reflexively, so know that I’m a diehard individualist and am not trying to make a false equivocation between individualism and collectivism, nor is this some attempt to undermine individual rights or any nonsense like that. I’m just going to ask you to trust where I’m going with this and withhold judgment till the end. Good?]
What might some of the symptoms of widespread, culturally-enforced naive individualism look like? Well, first and foremost, I’d be willing to bet that suicide and many mental illnesses are tied directly to this, as well as school shootings and a great number of other antisocial crimes. In regards to mass school shootings in particular, they’ve only been around since the mid 60s. the University of Texas shooting (1966) was the first shooting in the sense of what we’re accustomed to- prior to this, almost all shootings on a school campus were single victim incidents that were directly tied to some personal conflict, rather than the sort of generalized mass murder we see emerge at UT. For an extracurricular activity, compare the shooter’s age against the Strauss-Howe generational theory and draw your own conclusions.
One of the core symptoms of an over-focus on individualism is isolation. There’s a substantial amount of research that points to isolation as being comorbid with suicide- for example, it’s among the most common risk factors for men who attempt suicide. It’s even possible that we lean towards hyper-individualism as a coping mechanism for feelings of isolation.
Despite all this, I don’t think the solution is as simple as just increasing the amount of socialization that people do. Rather, I think this isolated individualism emerges as a symptom of our culture- I think that even if we wanted to socialize more, we don’t have the requisite structure to do so. Consider that in the past you generally lived with your extended family in one house, and you had some sort of connection to your community at large. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the more I think about this, the more it seems true. Nowadays, kids are lucky to even have both parents in the home, and the consequences of single parents on society are pretty well documented as well.
Wait a minute, though- are the consequences specifically from single parents, or are single parents yet another symptom of this massive failure of society to retain the social structure? If you’re the type of person who actually cares about finding solutions to problems instead of pointing fingers, you’ll find that most of what we think are problems in themselves are actually just symptoms of larger problems- systemic epidemics that either no one sees, no one has the requisite courage to acknowledge, or are so large and looming that no one can see solutions and thus defaults back to the symptoms out of fear.
See, while the side effects of collectivism are blatantly obvious to all but the most ideologically possessed intellectuals (“It wasn’t real communism! It’ll work this time!”), the side effects of individualism are far more subtle and second (or third+) order, and if you’re a diehard individualist like myself, you’re probably primed to ignore the idea that there’s anything wrong with individualism.
Here’s where things get tricky.
Nassim Taleb has a governmental concept called “fractal localism” that I like the concept of- he argues that government should be significantly stronger on the local level and get progressively more libertarian / lassiez-faire as you approach the federal level. I quite like this idea, however, I don’t think it goes far enough.
What if we were apply this fractal system to social order as well?
I’ve spent a long time trying to solve this dilemma between the obviously problems of collectivism and the less-obvious-but-still-problems of individualism, and I think the solution is that we’re applying the two to the wrong places. It’s apparent that collectivism at the national level is a one-way ticket to socialism/communism/fascism/dystopia/genocide. It’s less apparent, but I think that individualism on the local level is a one-way ticket to isolation, alienation, and the destruction of society (in much the same way as collectivism, but less straightforward).
This is where things get complicated.
The most central of all social units is the family- one could even say that the family is a microcosm of society as a whole, or perhaps even that society is a reflection of the state of the family. Marx was obviously aware of this, as he calls for the abolition of the family as soon as the second chapter of the Communist Manifesto- even he understood that the family is the core unit that moves all others. Maybe if his parents had succeeded in making him less of a resentful, useless shit, we wouldn’t have these problems, but alas, Marx, too, is a symptom. The destruction of the family is something that most people who want some form of power seek, specifically because a child without the security of family attachments is a ripe field for ideology to grow in.
Consider the nature of childcare. The modern educational system is based on the Prussian model, and it’s designed to create two things- factory workers and soldiers. In the past, you may would likely have learned a family trade and been educated in the home, and somehow society managed to run like that for its entire history. Now, kids are removed from the home to be cared for by strangers with little of the vested interest that you have for your own flesh and blood.
For the life of me, I cannot find the video, but a few years ago I remember seeing a short exploration on the correlation between day-care, insecure attachment, and the sort of behavior we’re seeing on college campuses now with safe spaces. Essentially, the argument was that in day care (more so low-quality day care), the caretakers have a high turnover rate, which causes feelings of abandonment in the kids (aside from the obvious abandonment from the parents leaving them there). This creates a number of negative effects, one of which is that the loud children get attention, so the kids learn to act out and expect to be recognized for that.
Fast forward, and you see this same behavior play out with quasi-adults that get their feelings hurt when people disagree with them, because “words are literally, like, violence,” or some other moronic horseshit.
Coincidentally, it’s these same people who had their family experience distorted by insecure attachment and isolation that also end up looking for a parent in the form of government. It’s a testament to the fact that childhood and parenting are so central in our lives that the myth that I cite the most on this site is the story of Eden, which is fundamentally a story about parents, children, and the loss of innocence.
In all actuality, this may be the most central of all stories.
Here’s something that’s wildly unorthodox to our modern sensibilities- in the Torah/Old Testament, there’s lists of family lineages going back hundreds of years. I, personally, know of exactly four generations of my family, and only on one side, and I’d argue that I’m closer to the average than the first example. It’s hard to imagine nowadays that anyone has a long and illustrious lineage that they take pride in, both because it’s so uncommon, and because our focus on naive individualism treats family as something to be cast off. Ironically, it’s this individualistic rejection of the family that leaves an easy opening for Marxism’s extreme rejection of the individual.
How do we solve this? This is where the Expanded Self comes in.
The central premise of my philosophy is that DNA and consciousness are inextricably linked, that together these comprise Life (the objective and subjective components, respectively) and because of this as our core concept, we can build an entire system from this fact. Life is the prerequisite for values (because dead men don’t want), so whatever values we choose must serve Life.
The difference between naive individualism and my concept of expanded self-interest is that naive individualism is concerned with the life of the individual itself, rather than the individual’s role as an expression of life itself. More simply- it doesn’t matter how perfect you live your life individually, if you don’t reproduce (and your offspring don’t reproduce), you failed. This is my chief complaint with Rand’s Objectivism, a system I have a great deal of respect for but one that I see as fundamentally flawed. She didn’t have any kids, and her philosophy really doesn’t cover having kids, so while her life may have been a central value, Life itself was not, because she allowed hers to die out.
I believe that this shift in perspective is central to solving all of the problems outlined above.
When you shift your focus from the notion that you’re an island, that you alone matter, and that you can do whatever you want to get what you want with impunity, you begin to discover the sort of meaning in social life that is wholly absent as a naive individualist. With this in mind, consider how many of the problems in modernity emerge from the fact that we’re more concerned with filling our narcissistic wants than having a family in the future. I’ve written a bit about one of these problems before in the Syzygy series and Beyond the Masculine and Feminine, which is that our view of sexuality is predominantly fixated on the sex act rather than the procreative nature (and that this has roots in Jungian psychology), and I’ve written about this when discussing Eden as well.
I think we’re in something of an adolescent state in society. We’re immature, we’re focused on short-term gratification, and we don’t have any extant mechanism by which we’re meant to become mature adults- even college is a continuation of childhood at this point. This immaturity reaches up to all levels, and in our naive individualism, we pursue our own interests without regard to the world we’re creating, a world that our children will one day inhabit and be left to pick up the pieces of. We’ve destroyed the notion of legacy, of family, and of any sort of obligation to anything beyond ourselves, and we’re seeing the consequences of that play out as this world we built begins to show cracks.
The only way forward seems to be to reject wholly the monstrous imposition of collectivism that seeks to destroy the individual, while also rejecting the supreme individualism that disregards the duty that we have towards the continuation of life. What this calls for is an identification with our Expanded Self, an awakening to the fact that none of us are islands, and that we are responsible for creating a better world for those who come after us.