Friday, 22 September 2017

Individuality Vs Individualism

Tharman on state media, gutter politics
Tharman Shanmugaratnam

I asked Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister, a question during NTU’s Majulah Lecture 2017. I felt it was worth drawing attention to because of some facts many people still aren’t aware of when the government continues to wax lyrical about promoting innovation and creativity in Singapore.
  • Me: Speaking of education, I agree completely with you, minister, that there needs to be more individualism, more thinking differently.
  • Mr Tharman: Individuality, not individualism.
  • Me: Individuality, that’s right. Having said that, don’t you think it’s also important to open up the media landscape to have the mainstream media not controlled by the government? As some of you may know, Singapore is ranked a 151st out of a 180 countries by Reporters Without Borders. And you’ve also said there is a need to return to honest politics, and have indicated that you believe political campaigns should be a healthy debate on ideas, not one muddied with mudslinging and personal attacks. Why then has the leaders of the PAP made gutter politics and character assassination central to their campaigns in recent elections, such as the Bukit Batok By-Elections last year? Is that something you personally approve of and would like to see continue in Singapore, or is that simply out of your control?

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Individuality Vs Individualism

Everybody knows that capitalism promotes the greatest scope for individual expression and that communism does the opposite. Everybody knows that communist-led governments suppress individuality and everyone is supposed to be exactly the same, or at least receive exactly the same allotments. If you’re interested in freedom of thought and movement, then you must be a fan of capitalism (or libertarianism or anarchism) because it guarantees the greatest freedoms. Communism, on the other hand, will lead to and has led to the ruthless suppression of individuality; groupthink will replace the full flowering of individuality.

Or so goes the commonplace view. Is the common wisdom actually correct? Answering this question takes us into heady territory that involves grappling with some of the central practical and philosophical questions that humanity confronts. In exploring and answering this question we first need to make an important distinction: the difference between individualism and individuality. Individualism is an ideology that privileges and celebrates individuals over the group.
  • Individuality is the recognition that individuals are different from one another. Individuality, in other words, is a fact. Anyone who fails to recognize or refuses to recognize that individuals are different is being absurd. Not only do individuals come in different sizes and colors, they are endowed with different abilities and interests, some of which are subject to a great deal of modification by environmental factors and some that are not.
  • Individualism, on the other hand, as an ideology, is a very different matter. Individualism holds that both societies and individuals operate best when individuals behave as if they have little to no obligations to others that they are required to observe. In addition, it argues that rewarding individuals for hard work and innovation with cold hard cash assures that individuals will work harder and more creatively and the whole society will therefore benefit. The more you materially reward hardworking and creative individuals, the better. If the material benefits such as more money and privileges do not go overwhelmingly to the individual to do what they wish with them, this would quash individual initiative and harm the whole society.
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What Is to Live with Individuality but not Individualism?

The Talloires Network asked 7 students and I to do one thing: say to the world what we have to say. I think that if I could use just one phrase I would quote what Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, said a long time ago: “the problem with our time is that men don’t want to be useful but important”. Well, I would add women to the equation too.

It’s tempting to write about how I had to work during my childhood, since I was 12 to these days. During that entire time, I saw much inequality and little respect to people’s rights, even in a country like Chile that’s characterized as one of the most developed and competitive nations in Latin America. The details about the tough moments in my life won’t be mentioned now, because of the space I have for writing. What I want to say, that can speak to you the reader, is about the fruits that those experiences have brought to me. By “fruits” I mean, for example, the active position I have taken in societal issues, which is stimulated by empathy and love for people, and also a lack of labels with respect to what I’m able to do and what I’m not.

Last December, during the Talloires Network Leaders Conference 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa, I had the chance to share with others about my experience as a volunteer on the Hippotheraphy Program at my university and also as an entrepreneur in one of the projects that are part of the Youth Economic Participation Initiative. I do all of this while I study geology at my university. Most people get surprised when they find out about all the things I do, and they question me about the relationship among all og them. They used to ask me “Why?” when the only thing I ask myself is “Why not?” before any opportunity to help people while improving my own life. I have to say that before a student of geology, I’m a human being I thank God for having realized that.

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The Individual … the Black Sheep

I recently talked to some students about individualism vs. collectivism and really loved it. It was the conversation and sharing and even disagreeing that made it really rich.  I’m back in the United States, an individualistic society, that can be misunderstood, just as cultures misunderstand each other.  For example, many can think that we don’t love our families as much as it’s ok to move away-even at a very young age, or that we are cold in our actions, or that we are all rich.

For one, we can seem cold as we are ‘individuals’; we shake hands instead of kiss on the cheek, and we like our own individual space and time alone, in general.  And regarding being rich, well this is absolutely not true and is a matter of a different world economy and way of life all together that will have to be addressed in another blog post.

The family interaction piece isn’t easily understood between the two societal frameworks and this comes down to collectivism vs. individualism.  The family unit is extremely important in both, but it is central to most Latin American families for example.  Typically they spend a lot of time together and it’s common within the culture to stay living with your parents until even the 30’s, where this isn’t common in the United States as kids are bred to find their way and to make something of themselves… as soon as they can, moving out usually by 18.

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Individualism Vs Personhood

To understand why individualism is antithetical to salvation, one must consider what individualism is in reality, and what constitutes salvation. The discussion of these two concepts have filled more than a few libraries, thus it would be impossible to discuss them here at length, but the following thoughts are what I believe to be some of the necessary points to understand:
  • The ancient Church made a clear distinction between an “individual” and a “person.” This distinction may at first seem to be a needless detour of semantics, but it is actually a very important concept in understanding Christianity’s claim of what it means to be “saved.” In an effort to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity, the early Church Fathers identified the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as the three “Persons” of the Trinity, rather than the three “Individuals” of the Trinity. The Persons of the Trinity are inherently communal – the Persons are distinct yet never separate; God is three divine Persons (hypostases) who are one in essence (homoousios), as stated in the Nicene Creed. They understood true personhood as that state of existence constituted by communion, hence one cannot conceive of the true God as “One God” in the sense of existing as a lone individual. Rather God is One as a communion of three Persons. God did not “become” love after He created the universe. God was always love because God is eternally Trinity. Thus, our true being (the likeness and image of God, Genesis 1:26) is communion – personhood – and not autonomous individuality.
  • Individualism, in reality, is the antithesis of the Christian concept of communion. The individual presupposes exemption from community. The more individualistic one becomes the more he becomes isolated in his self-directed existence. Isolation has more in common with a prison cell than with freedom.The fall of man can be understood as mankind’s descent into an existence constituted by individualism. Prior to the fall, mankind’s existence was constituted by communion in true personhood. As Robert Lloyd Arnold puts it, “The more a person acts to satisfy the demands and appetites of his own human nature, the less of a person he in fact becomes” (Orthodoxy Revisited, p.158). The more individualism becomes our means of life, the more hardened our fallen state becomes.
  • Salvation, then, is a return to true “personhood,” i.e. a return to an existence constituted in God’s likeness – Trinitarian communion. Just as God’s very being is communion, our true being is communion. Without the communion of God we have no life in us. Hell is the ironic state of an eternal life of death; that of lacking communion with God. True communion is accomplished when we are “grafted” into Christ’s Body, the Church. If one is not “in Christ” then he does not have salvation.

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AZ Quotes

As we seek to eliminate individualism in teaching, we should not eradicate individuality with it

Individuality Quotes

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