In Defense of Collectivism

I mentioned earlier that humans are a collective of individuals, so there shouldn’t be a conflict between collectivism and individualism. Lets look at Collectivism a bit more. The almighty Wikipedia says:

“Collectivism is any philosophic, political, religious, economic, or social outlook that emphasizes the interdependence of every human being. Collectivism is a basic cultural element that exists as the reverse of individualism in human nature (in the same way high context culture exists as the reverse of low context culture), and stresses the priority of group goals over individual goals and the importance of cohesion within social groups (such as an “in-group”, in what specific context it is defined). Collectivists usually focus on community, society, or nation. It is used and has been used as an element in many different and diverse types of government and political, economic and educational philosophies throughout history and most human societies, in practice, contain elements of both individualism and collectivism.”

It doesn’t sound so bad, and it shouldn’t. Concepts such a communism and fascism have been called collectivist. I’d add most organized religions to that lot also. Yet I’m not sure if any of those are really collectivist, if we take collectivism to be an idea where the a group of people are regarded as a single entity. The goals of the entity are the goals of the people. Something all participants strive for equally, although possibly for different reasons and in different ways. Communism, fascism, totalitarianism, Christianity are not the goals of the whole group, rather by a small subgroup of manipulators. Perhaps on an idealistic level those ideologies might be collectivist, but not on a practical level. Communist countries always had a elite to rule over the masses, so did fascist countries and churches, especially the Catholic church.

I claim that those aren’t collectivist even though the whole collective shares the same goal, the goal is not one of the collective, but of the small subgroup which fools others to think the goal is theirs as well. For a group can have a goal, a group of people can become one entity, albeit an ephemeral one. Nor am I sure how big a group can become a harmonious entity where all the participants are truly willing, and not coerced or cajoled into it. A nation, or even a town might be too big, but a group of friends can certainly be an entity.

When I go out with a good group of friends the needs of the individual don’t matter as much, yet the individual is not suppressed or oppressed. Other priorities simply become more important than the desires of the individual. It doesn’t matter if we go to the restaurant I prefer, if everyone else wants to go to another place as long as I don’t hate the place. It doesn’t matter whether we play the game I want, if we do something which ends up being enjoyable. The role of the ego dissipates in a good circle of friends. Each individual instinctually knows how to bend enough to benefit the group without harming himself. However, if there is one guy who doesn’t fit in, he can ruin all of it by his mere presence. I imagine some rock bands, for example, are like this when writing songs. People present ideas, the ones that work are refined, others discarded, and it doesn’t matter who came up with what tune or which piece of writing. A collective can be powerful and beneficial.

The catch is that no-one can be part of a collective all the time. A collective is ephemeral. Everyone is an individual, and at some times you have to distance yourself from others to look at things from a different perspective. Being part of a group your senses often dullen, you’re not as sharp as usual. Softer. It makes you easy prey, easier to manipulate. That’s why you have to be able to switch from group mode to individual mode if the situation changes. Being in group mode all the time makes you dumb. Being in individual mode makes you jaded and agitated. Both are necessary.

Collectivism/ collectivist is sometimes used almost as a four letter word in the alternative media. I don’t agree that it has to be. It has been pointed out before by some guy who was a guest at Red Ice Creations (too lazy to dig up his name) that psychopaths are in a way the ultimate individual. They use the collective for their own benefit with little concern for others. The issue of collectivism vs individuality is not all that black and white.




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