There are Many I’s in INDIVIDUALISM

A reflection
by Chris Hibbard

There are Many I’s in INDIVIDUALISM

The Oxford dictionary defines individualism as three separate meanings:

a) the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant
b) a social theory favouring the free actions of individuals
c) self-centered feeling or conduct

This reflection however, is not about those thorough and hardworking individuals who concoct Oxford’s definition of reality. Rather, in keeping close to the spirit of individualism, it is all about me. For the next five minutes, my life has nothing to do with your ideas, or those of anyone else.

To me, individualism is really quite simple. From the time that we are old enough to hold our own spoons and wipe our own bums, individualism is all about tastes and desires, wants and rewards, and most importantly, the choices that we make to fulfill and attain them.

It does not require 100 per cent belief in oneself as an individual or otherwise, or in notions of self-worth, self-reliance and independence. It need not embrace opposition to all things authority and
all things control, and it can exist anywhere. Individualism occurs from the tiny confines of one’s own brain all the way our into the world, through the doors of houses, the walls of prisons, the windows of skyscrapers and the institutions of church and state.

If one were to truly apply individualism as their life philosophy, this does not make them any more or an individual than one who thinks only altruistically, putting others always first. For the altruist is still an individual, acting in their own best interests as well, only considering their best interest to lie in the well-being of others, rewarded by the warm fuzzy feelings that are created within themselves after the others’ well-being has been positively enhanced.

From one extreme to another, individualism comes right back down to one thing. Choices. Good choices and bad ones – most of both can only be examined after the fact. Right choices and wrong, concious and unconcious, serious choices and little trivial ones. Should I sleep in today or should I go to class? Should I have one last beer before I retire for the night? Should I eat MacDonald’s or make myself a salad? Should I wear a condom this time, or nine months later, what should we name our baby?

John Locke has his opinions on individualism as does Todorov, Aquinas, Al Purdy and even Dennis Rodman. Mine however, is that individualism is best defined by the actions and decisions made by each and every one of us, every second of every day. Let me be clear on one point. To me, individualism is not ethical egoism, nor does it condone or encourage anarchy. Though by Oxford definitions, if we were to all subscribe to it as a way of life, that is where it would seem to lead us. This is one way in which the theory of individualism is a paradox.

In our modern society one must remain an individual, yet be true to the laws (though not necessarily the morals and ethics) of the collective. For the collective is composed of individuals like us, the majority of whom feel one particular way about a subject, leading to the creation of laws or rules. With that said, an individual who breaks said laws is still able to exercise their individuality, he or she will just have to adapt to exercising it within the confines of a 6 x 9 cell while under near-constant supervision and within a strict routine of eat, shower, behave, eat, go outside, lights out, sleep, repeat.

We truly do live in paradoxical time. First of all, it is a democratic time – a time for the people of the the people by the people. Hundreds of individuals are clumped together in towns with millions more all crammed in shiny smoggy cities. Billions of individual humans overall, all crawling over one medium-sized chunk of rock that we call Earth.

Secondly, it is a capitalist time, for the money of the money by the money. All of us prescribing to a system of paper and metal that represents increments of payment, a replacement system for the age of rabbit skins, chicken eggs and flecks of gold or pretty beads swapped and bartered. How I choose to spend my paper and metal is up to me, as it who I choose to buy it from and how much I choose to pay.

Third, we live in a predominantly Christian time, one in which many people still adhere quite strictly to the Ten Commandments – humanity’s first laws, some would claim. I personally think that organized religion is a major problem in our society because most neglect the best parts – individual spirituality and a personal relationship with whoever you think might be listening – be it Buddha, Mother Nature or Mickey Mouse. So just where is it that these three conflicting systems meet?

We are individuals operating within the constraints of each other, our supply and demand, and our agreed upon ‘golden rules’ of good living. We adhere to these things for structure, because collectively it makes us feel safe enough to exercise our own individuality freely. We even have free speech, which most us choose not to engage in, while others do so while exercising their individual rights to privacy – hiding in their rooms and chatting on the Internet or the cell phone with those other like-minded individuals that they have chosen to engage with in the game of human social relations.

My friend Keith does not own a car, a phone, a driver’s license, a credit card, a DVD player or even a social insurance number. He is 27 years old and works as a cook at the same place he has for years. He has a wife and two kids, long red dreadlocks and a love for classical music. This is Keith exercising his individuality to the best of his ability within a society that constantly tries reinforcing collectivism. Keith does not think about it much, even when he is called a Luddite or a hippie, he just simply shrugs and keeps on living the way that he wants to.

In comparison, my individuality is expressed with a bit more subtlety. I drive a car covered in stickers proclaiming my individual love for certain rock banks, comic book heroes and odd taste in jokes. I am a night owl and a movie connoisseur. I am a mediocre student but an intelligent person with good listening skills. I am an avid reader who rarely watches television. I am very skilled at crossword puzzles but have no patience for logic puzzles like Sudoko. I tend to value animal rights over human ones.

I vote because I can and am trained as a journalist, but have an innate distrust for both politicians and corporately owned media outlets. I enjoy participating in telephone surveys, play the bongo drums and think of James Bond and Jackie Chan as role models. I pray sometimes, if only to remind myself that as an individual I choose to believe in an omnipotent being who cares for me. I like to wear camouflage underwear because it defeats it’s own purpose, and I choose to pay very little attention to my hair. I collect trivia facts, get distracted easily by cats, and choose to eat carrots all the time.

I am a firm believer in the notions of three sides to every story – essentially always playing devil’s advocate. Therefore I have little patience for overly opinionated, stubborn or closed-minded people that refuse to consider alternative outlooks. I know my good and bad qualities. I embrace them both and try to keep them both under control for better or worse. I had a hard time in high school because I made some poor choices on pastimes and crowd, and have been making up for it ever since. Essentially, I like to think that I do what most other people do, but I do it in my own distinct, individual way.

So to me, that’s it, that’s all, that’s the key to individualism and individuality. Choices. I had the choice to enroll in a class and I did. I had a choice to do the assignment and I did. I had the choice to exercise my individuality while writing about individuality, within the confines and parameters of 2000 words, and I chose to write something like this. I had the choice to post this blog on the net and I did. You as a reader on the other hand, had the choice to read it – and if you’ve made it this far, I trust that you did.

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~ by Chris Hibbard on November 24, 2008.

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