Individualism

So, Ireland has elected Michael D. Higgins to be the 9th President of our country. I’ve been a fan of him and his ideas for some time now, so this pleases me greatly. I am also pleased to see that even though his new role is ceremonial and relatively ‘non-political’ he is still sticking to his guns in fighting what he calls the “narrow individualism” which was to blame for the economic and social disaster which befell Ireland. That selfishness that ignored the truth that we are part of an interconnected society – and simply striving for your own gain without thought for others leads to chaos.

The problem of ‘individualism’ is something I have thought about for some time. Repeatedly on this blog I have woven together various threads on the subject, mainly from Eastern Philosophy as interpreted through he work of Alan Watts, but also from other leftist thinkers, as well as scientists, comedians, philosophers and psychologists. In many ways I think it is the fundamental problem. People talk of “Money” or “Religion” being the root of all evil. I think the basic problem is this idea of our separation from our environment and others. We don’t see ourselves as integral parts of a system, and thus we act in ways that is destructive to that system. If we could see how connected we are, how our separation from the Universe is a hoax – THE hoax according to Buddhism – then how we interact with each other would fundamentally change.

Alan Watts nicely captured this view

I’ve seen some right-wing or libertarian commentators raise an alarm at this premise coming from our President elect. Individualism is one of the central axes of their world view, and anything other than that is “collectivism”, wherein lie the murky waters of cartoon communism – grey jumpsuits, non-critical-thinking zombie-like masses marching to work. This is not what criticizing “individualism” leads to – The Buddha or other similar thinkers did not propose a world where people lose their self identity. No one is wishing for a Borg-like collective of unthinking slaves. You do not have to give up your identity to realise that you are entirely interdependent on the rest of the Universe, and that acting in an individualist way is harmful to you and others.

So I am very happy to have a man who shares this view as my President. He has no real power – but if he can help us in any way start thinking about ourselves and place in society – well that’ll be good enough. And, if you look around at most big cities around the world, well, you might just see people Occupying a space who have similar ideas.