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One for All or All for One?

%22individual+-v-+group%22+%28CC+BY+2.0%29+by+Sean+MacEntee

"individual -v- group" (CC BY 2.0) by Sean MacEntee

"individual -v- group" (CC BY 2.0) by Sean MacEntee

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Choosing between oneself and the group you belong to is a persistent struggle. Do you choose all for one or one for all? If you believe in the power of the group over the individual, you’re a collectivist. On the other hand, if you stand for individualism over group improvement, you’re an individualist. Although choosing between these ideas is complex, individualism must always come before collectivism. No, collectivism isn’t inherently bad; no, individualism isn’t an ideological savior (however, it is as close as we have to one), but when weighing the pros and cons of each mindset, collectivism is a controller and individualism is a liberator.

People are often under the impression that they already stand for their beliefs even if they are a part of a group. That’s true, but only to a certain extent. People are attracted to groups because they typically tend to represent their ideological views or something they think they are looking for (a.k.a phases). People don’t willingly choose to join something they have no interest in. Eventually, a person involved in a group will get submerged in that group’s frame of mind. There will always be room for an individual’s personality to shine, but a large part of an individual becomes tribal. It’s only natural to flock to people who share similar ideas and interests as you, but that becomes a problem when it’s expected of the group that everyone must have these same ideas and interests. As a result, personality and individual opinions are sacrificed for conformity and groupthink.

Surprisingly, any movement you can think of holds the belief that they are opening doors for people to express themselves freely. However, movements who claim to be “accepting” are falsely portraying themselves in order to attract more supporters. Once a person is in, they must adhere to the standards set up by the movement. If an opinion doesn’t represent the movement’s beliefs, the person who expressed these contrarian views is soon corrected of their “wrong” idea or even ostracized. Regardless of meaningless labels of “tolerance” or “open-mindedness,” a movement’s goal is not to open discussion; it is to close it. While allowing anyone to enter, movements attempt to trap people into a box. Their mind is no longer free, because as more and more people are converted, the more taboo it becomes to say something or do something unorthodox. Movements aren’t about acceptance, they’re about conversion. Suddenly, everyone a person doesn’t agree with becomes characterized as an insult that is easily interchangeable with another because it holds no actual substance. When argument slips into firing heavily-loaded ad hominems back and forth at our ideological foes, compromise and open discussion disappear.

Not everything about collectivism is bad, though. Many people are attracted to the comfort of knowing that everyone in the group has a higher power looking over them, who seems to have their best interest in mind, like a parental figure. Collectivism offers them a sense of immediate stability and security that people have to wait for under individualism, because the individual must reach a stable and secure point alone rather than in a group. The lack of spontaneity in a collectivist structure eases people who are afraid of shaking the status quo or dealing with the anxiety-inducing ups and downs of life. Collectivism is the essential safety net for people who want to live under a group’s doctrine, because it offers a form of organization against the unpredictability of living as an individual.  In a social order where groups are valued over one person, there is less stress overall, because social image, status, accomplishments, and anything else that can represent an individual no longer holds the same prominence. Collectivism also helps people–especially adolescents–who are unsure of their place in life, because it allows people to identify with certain groups. In turn, the identification with a group helps a person understand themselves through an external source rather than an internal one.

However, the greatest merit of the collectivist mindset is that groups create a sense of unity through a common cause that cannot be achieved by an individual or without causing a group to form based on an individual’s actions. In this respect, the collectivist mindset allows people to work better with one another, but only if everyone in the group has the same opinion: that is where the downfall begins. The collectivist mindset is what Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, and other fascists channeled when implementing their oppressive rule over individual people. These fascist leaders send out or even kill so-called dissenters, not because the “dissenters” are doing something wrong, but because they think for themselves. Intellectualism is the greatest threat to everything any tyrannical leader has ever wanted to accomplish. Mussolini once defined fascism as “all within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Collectivism reaches not only groups, but whole nations, and when applying Mussolini’s logic, collectivism is fascist in nature. Ideological movements want everything to benefit them while forcing it onto others (all within the state). By using psychological tactics, these movements convince their supporters that individualism is evil and must never taint the “perfect” bubble of opinions the group holds (nothing outside the state). Above all, however, is the opposing view, which must be struck down at all costs because a group cannot thrive if people are shattering their idealistic visions (nothing against the state). Unfortunately, many people adopt this thought process and become victims of the oppressive nature of collectivism.

Although the collectivist mindset is hard to escape, it is not impossible. The remaining parts of an individual are still withstanding, but a person must become self-aware about the detriments of collectivism first before shifting into an individualist frame of thought. Individualism offers so much more than the scam that is collectivism, allowing people to actually be themselves and share their views because individualism isn’t associated with a specific group.

In spite of the benefits, individualism is not immune to contradictions. Individualism is certainly about the individual, but it is important to note that it is also a way people think. Individualists surely hang out with other people who ascribe the “individualist” label to themselves. Again, it’s only natural to enjoy the company of like-minded people. Nevertheless, there is obviously a fine line between individualism and collectivism that gets blurry. Is it collectivist to believe other people who are pro-collectivist are wrong despite the fact that individualist ideological views bind them to the belief that everyone has different opinions? Or is this a concern individualists have because they don’t want people to suffer under collectivist movements? The individualist movement reveals its flaws when it crosses that blurry line, putting them at the same level as any other movement rampant with calls for conformity.

The individualist mindset–even as a group–preaches tolerance for all beliefs (minus the collectivist belief!). The individualist doesn’t care about your political affiliation, your gender, your religion, your sexuality, your race, etc.; the individualist only wants to hear about your ideas. Whether or not these ideas are compatible with their own is of minuscule importance to someone with the individualist perspective. The individualist never has to label themselves as “open-minded,” because it’s self-explanatory. All they want is civil discourse and for people to realize that everyone is never going to have the same opinion, and that’s ok!

When the market for a vast spectrum of ideas expands, so does freedom. People no longer fear becoming outcasts or targeted because of the way they express themselves under an individualist society. The “safe space” collectivists advocate for is actualized by individualists who don’t care if they have one or not. Collectivism childishly yearns for an unattainable utopian society where everyone agrees on everything and lives peacefully. Individualism yearns for an unattainable intellectual society where everyone does not have to agree on everything but respects the fact that a variety of opinions are represented and lives peacefully. Both are unrealistic for different reasons. Getting everyone to agree on everything is impossible. Getting everyone to respect different opinions is also impossible. Even so, collectivism is rooted in idealism, whereas individualism has a more realistic perspective. While collectivism has a better chance of surviving if people allow themselves to be subjected to it over and over again, individualism has the capability to unlock the mind to a more free, tolerant, and questioning environment.

***

Although there isn’t a good quality interactive collectivist vs. individualist mindset quiz available online, you can always self-quiz on paper if you search the Cultural Cognition or Cultural Orientation Test!

A song that perfectly satirizes the detriments of a collectivist society is “Perfect System” by Oingo Boingo:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWzSMKySC4k

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One for All or All for One?