The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

My Photo
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Ills of Individualism

It’s funny. We’ve been discussing the topics of happiness and Objectivism a great deal lately, but I didn’t expect these two threads to intersect! This morning, I read a passage from The Pursuit of Happiness that astonished me. Keep in mind as you’re reading this that Objectivism is largely an extreme extension of “Individualism.”

Individualism and Depression. University of Pennsylvania researcher Martin Seligman believes that depression is a new plague among young and middle-age Americans. The cause? Epidemic hopelessness. Hopelessness caused by what? Individualism, believes Seligman.

This is, as Ronald Reagan declared in a speech on Wall Street, “the age of the individual.” Individualists enjoy independence and take pride in their achievements. But at a price. When facing failure or rejection the self-driven individual takes on personal responsibility for problems. If, as a macho Fortune magazine ad declared, you can “make it on your own,” on “your own drive, your own guts, your own energy, your own ambition,” then whose fault is it if you don’t make it on your own?

So, take your pick: People in competitive, individualist cultures, such as the United States, have more independence, make more money, take more pride in personal achievements, are less geographically bound near elderly parents, are less likely to prejudge those outside their groups, and enjoy more privacy. Their less unified cultures offer a smorgasbord of life-styles from which to choose. But compared to collectivists, individualists are also lonelier, more alienated, less likely to feel romantic love, more likely to divorce, more homicidal, and more vulnerable to stress-related diseases such as heart attacks. “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up,” warns the sage of Ecclesiastes. Seligman concludes that “rampant individualism carries with it two seeds of its own destruction. First, a society that exalts the individual to the extent ours now does will be ridden with depression... Second, and perhaps most important, is meaninglessness [which occurs when there is no] attachment to something larger than you are.”

I am essentially an individualist. But this is tempered with a profound understanding of the universe that I live in. In the end, it’s all about balance...


Post a Comment

<< Home