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Alex Belits - Individuality, or why every kid should be told to be a good drone
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Individuality, or why every kid should be told to be a good drone
In modern American culture right after two greatest values that are proclaimed to be celebrated the most -- "freedom" (whatever kind of freedom it is supposed to be) and money -- there is "individuality". And just like with first two, overwhelming majority of population lacks everything but the most rudimentary forms of it -- most of people have all their thoughts borrowed from one of the few "camps" ("conservatives", "progressives", "poor me, trying to survive", "technocrats" even), tastes borrowed from one of few popular styles, etc. Genuine interest in anything but few "popular" areas is extremely rare, people rarely diverge from cookbook solutions, fixed aesthetic styles and ritualized social behavior.

Some are quick to blame improvements in mass media and communication. If one has inclination for something popular, he won't have to look past his TV to be presented with multitude of carefully prepared, selected to fall smack in the middle of the range, role models. If he has inclination toward something unpopular, he will likely find a massive crowd of people into the same thing on the Internet, and will follow them, mimicking whatever grown to be popular among the group he joined -- no matter how bizarre or sick.

In my opinion the root of the problem is much deeper, and it starts in people at much younger age. The problem is the very fact that society promotes "individuality" way too much. So every little kid who has absolutely no idea about anything in the world around himself, is told to "express himself", and he finds nothing else to express but few basic ideas or ways to express his emotions that he managed to pick up -- so he just expresses them in exaggerated way. As he grows up he is told that random variations he has from others are somehow "valuable" and they define him, yet his accomplishments and failures in things that actually matter to others are not (as in "You are not your job..." part of the Tyler Durden speech in Fight Club -- that makes a lot of sense when directed toward a bunch of losers but not otherwise). Later in life society still presents him with a fixed set of goals -- achieve wealth, have sex/create a family, rise in whatever system of social hierarchy that he entered, etc., but tells him that it's important that he should "figure out" how to use his "unique abilities" to accomplish those goals. The result obviously can't be good for the majority of people because whatever "uniqueness" they have developed that way is absolutely useless for anything but ornamental purposes, what is pretty weak as far as life skills are concerned. So despite having such a "friendly" society a person rebels against it because it is asking the impossible -- too bad, the person has no means to express that rebellion in any way other than by anger and hostility.

I think, this happens because "politically correct" society takes a completely unnatural role in this whole "individuality" thing. Individuality is inherent in every human, and society is its natural enemy. Society, if it functions properly, presents a person with things to learn, believe, imitate, achieve and conform to. A young kid is powerless against it, and it's precisely how things are supposed to be -- his weak feelings and ides, individual or not, are not worthy opponents to the society, so they are suppressed, not placed into a positive-feedback loop that will let them grow to extremes. As person absorbs ideas, his mental capacity grows enough to develop critical thinking, and then he can start evaluating the ideas presented to him and imposed on him.

At that point individuality can become truly valuable -- an idea that society accepts, promotes and teaches to kids is usually popular, so rejection of it may be an act of thinking that is different from the mainstream. Of course, more likely it's merely some common form of selfish behavior that society opposed, but a wonderful thing about society is that it's good at oppressing common forms of antisocial behavior and bad at opposing uncommon ones. Unless it's some ridiculously oppressive society such as Europe in Middle Ages or a modern religious cult, it either can't be bothered with shooting down everything unusual, or does it very poorly. So in this "mildly oppressive" society growing kids benefit from both popular ideas they absorb and unpopular but not trivial/antisocial ideas they develop -- and have to exercise critical thinking and communication skills while developing and defending this hard-earned individuality. It may happen that independently developed ideas may not be individual after all, but what is important, they were developed, possibly stood up to society's pressure, and ended up in a form that society can live with -- capability to produce those is an important skill.

A large number of people still won't do anything unusual and will merely select among socially acceptable ideas and goals they were presented with -- but then what did they lose in the process? Someone's tendency to read books aloud at the age of 10 didn't get escalated into becoming a professional actor despite lack of acting skills? I would prefer to see a well-adjusted person who is content with his professional life over either an office drone who believes that his life isn't worth living unless he plays Hamlet, or an actor that should've never shown up on a stage or in front of a camera. That's not greatness or even potential for greatness, that's pathetic -- I don't need that, society does not need this, and most of all those people don't need that.

To develop individuality in kids society has to oppose it. It has to force enough initial knowledge and cultural context upon them so they will have something to think and be curious about (or they will just absorb more entertainment that is hardly a substitute). It has to resist new ideas to provide an example of criticism, especially if the kid is too young to think of it by himself. It should tone down political and religious propaganda in school, it has to support people who found unique ways to produce valuable and impressive things and ideas, and it shouldn't attack every harmless quirk, however it's also has to stop telling everyone that he is a unique snowflake whose only value is in uniqueness. I don't know, what kind of idiot I would become if I grew up in such an environment, as I had plenty of uniqueness but few valuable abilities.
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dk379 From: dk379 Date: March 29th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
i think The System does it so kids do not organize themselves together to throw it down.
This would be so communist, so organized... horrors. HHOS

I am reading "The Rebel Sell" (in Russian translation.)
They note that modern consumer culture (post-industrial, non-uniform) is created exactly by request of individualistic "rebel consumers".
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