I wrote recently about how individualism has been a cornerstone of western civilization for over 2 centuries now, and how this may be coming under a little bit of fire.
I do not believe individualism is entirely coming to an end, but I do believe that it is about to be downsized as a value in our society. This is often the case with cultural waves, and subsequent over-reacting counterwaves.
But what would a post-individualistic world be like? Individualism sprung from romanticism together with the exaltation of passion, the seed of anti-conformism, and many aspects of our culture that are deeply interconnected, so it’s not a case of shutting down a single value, but rather the interconnected network of values that we call our current culture.
Culture does change, it is alive and it keeps evolving through time in relation with exchanges with other civilizations, technological advances and challenges that nature may pose, like new epidemics, or the lack thereof.
The rationale that seems to appeal to populist supporters today is that we should spend our efforts to improve the condition of the many, as opposed to that of the few or the single individuals. In other words, the majority is more important than the minority.
This is particularly meaningful as neoliberalism had the side effect during the last few decades of concentrating more wealth into fewer hands.
It did so at the expense of the middle and lower classes, i.e. of the vast majority of people, who is understandably trying to regain a central role in the democratic process.
One of the limits of this approach is beautifully summarized in the old adage: our freedom ends where that of somebody else begins.
When populists focus on meeting the instances of the majority and winning their vote, they inevitably shift their focus away from social equality, minority advocacy, and the correlated progressive freedom of expression of the individual.
When we see this movement as a counterwave to individualism, the risk is that of pursuing the new wave up to the extreme consequences.
It was extremely rational the concept of eugenics and try to spare future generations from genetic weaknesses by making a sacrifice in the present.
It was extremely rational the idea that if we were to redistribute the wealth from the richest slice of the population everyone would benefit.
They were two rational ideas popularised by nazism and communism, and as we now know, neither of them was a success story.
I have been a strong supported of rationalism in past, however as usual when a niche concept gets chewed and mainstreamed on a mass scale, it can loose part of its appeal.
The decline of individualistic values from the right (liberalism and right to self-determination) and from the left (freedom of expression and progressivism), seems unavoidable in the current political climate, like unavoidable will be the rise of new values, that I called post-individualistic.
We live in a more and more fragmented, divided society, across many axis of political, religious, ethnic, sexual, and other natures.
While many of us can easily perceive themselves as part of the majority in at least one of those axis, there are very few people that are part of the majority in all of them.
That is to say: the majority of us belong to one minority or another.
This is a good time as any to consider that what may seem to be the most rational way forward has a distinctive and fearsome aura of deja-vu. It shouldn’t necessarily stop us, but it would be a good idea to proceed with caution.