Individualism in the current socio-political context (Part I)

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this post given the political and social climate we find ourselves in now. The chances of being misunderstood or worse the accusation that I might be acting with malice are extremely high, but then if we aren’t going to talk about this now, when are we?

For most people that know me, know that I lie somewhere on the libertarian/conservative scale. I’d say more libertarian if it was more of a political movement, but it’s not and this isn’t the post to discuss that. But the one thing that both libertarians and conservatives agree on is that the basic unit of social life is the individual rather than the group. The U.S constitution was written as such- the ability for an individual to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness free from interference by another individual or the government. Now, I’m not saying the U.S constitution is perfect, nothing with hindsight is, gross injustices were made, but several provisions allowed for those injustices to be corrected over time.

Individual rights were the bedrock for correcting those injustices because rather than seeing a person for who he/she/their is, group rights tend to look at that person as a subset of the group they belong to. This process of group rights tends to perpetuate various stereotypes that eventually became ingrained in our culture. Racism and slavery as you might have guessed came from this very process, where one group was thought to be superior to another. It’s hard to subjugate millions of people if you look at them just as individuals. How hard would it be for different people from various social structures to be subjected to the gross injustices of our past?-Extremely. History shows us that it’s easier for societies and demagogues to commit atrocities against a particular group than if they were counted as individuals. Think about this way, isn’t it better to be prejudiced against an individual than a group? Aren’t humanity’s biggest sins a consequence of prejudice against a group rather an individual?

Ayn Rands talks about this in her essay on “Racism”, “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social, or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage … which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.”

Group rights lead to tribalism that only increases the divide between various groups. The kind of divisions we’ve seen on social media, amongst friends and the general political landscape, is the symptom of such tribalism. A kind of tribalism where we judge people based on how much they conform to our political notions leading to a lack of civil discourse and eventual decay. Ross Douthat talks about this decay in his book, “The decadent society” where rich and powerful societies cease advancing, causing cultural exhaustion and decay that last for long periods. Tribalism only exacerbates this decay by increased partisanship where we limit our social circles to those that have the same beliefs as us. Now, I’m not saying partisanship is a bad thing, it’s certainly something the founders considered, but it’s only good in the context of an eventual bipartisan solution. Identity politics has led to a situation where dehumanizing the other side has become common, and compromise taboo. This certainly isn’t what the founders imagined when they thought of political parties. The entire process was created so that there would be an eventual compromise, but that same process has now been weaponized to divide us further apart…


(P.S I understand for some the whole group rights theory might mean the break up of familial and social ties. This is not what I’m advocating for, social and familial ties are extremely important, but rather than focus on the top down approach, individualism starts out as bottom up)

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