Something that is said over and over again in our society is that there is too much emphasis on individualism, and not enough emphasis on community. In other words, there is too much emphasis on “me” and not enough emphasis on “we.”
Take, for example, a recent Instagram post by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in which she wrote: “Community and collective good is our best shot through our greatest challenges – way more than discorded acts of ‘rugged individualism’ and the bootstrap propaganda that we’ve been spoon-fed since birth.” Ocasio-Cortez also claimed that “much of the emphasis of media conversations on COVID are individualistic.”
I could not disagree more strongly with these sentiments.
When I look at the world around me, the vast majority of the propaganda being spoon-fed to people emphasizes communalism, togetherness, selflessness, giving, and caring about others. The concepts of individualism and individual rights are underappreciated in today’s society. Contrary to AOC’s claim, almost every institution in our society – from schools to churches to governments to charitable organizations – places an enormous amount of emphasis on community and collective good, at the expense of the individual.
This is particularly true with regards to the Covid pandemic. “We’re all in this together,” goes the familiar slogan. Ad nauseam, people are urged to sacrifice for the greater good and to “do your part” in ending the pandemic. Anyone who dares to disobey or even question the rules made by public health experts is condemned as selfish. With all the emphasis on public health, individual rights have been lost. Individualism has been almost completely abandoned in favor of community and collective good.
And that is unfortunate, because individualism, not community or collective good, is the key to a good world. Individualism is the key to happiness, fulfillment, and a life worth living.
Individualism does not need to be “rugged,” as AOC describes it. Individualism means that each person is different, and what is right for one person may not be right for another. Individualism means that that each person has the fundamental right to live according to his/her values, tastes, desires, needs, and preferences. This might mean living off the land, or driving a pickup truck, or owning lots of guns, as seems to be the popular stereotype. Alternatively, it might mean living in a big city, riding the train, working at a grocery store, and doing art in one’s free time, to give a random example. Individualism might mean holding unpopular opinions and expressing them on social media. It might mean dressing in a unique way, being interested in things that are considered weird or uncool, or simply being quirky or eccentric. Whatever form it takes, individualism means that people get to make their own decisions about their own lives. People get to live where they want, use their money to buy the things that they want, wear what they want, eat and drink what they want, do the activities that they want, get the medical procedures that they want, et cetera.
A world in which people are told to sacrifice their own goals for the public good is a world in which no one gets what they want. A world in which people are told to sacrifice their happiness and well-being for that of others is a world in which no one is happy. Without the freedom to make one’s own decisions, and to live as one pleases, there is no purpose in being alive at all.
There is quite enough emphasis on community and collective good. In our public-health-obsessed society, individualism gets a bad rap, and its proponents are all too frequently dismissed as selfish, entitled, ignorant, and stupid. A world that puts individual rights first may be a more dangerous place, but it is the only type of world in which true happiness is possible and in which life is worth living. The answer to what ails our country and our world is more individualism, not less.