We are incredibly complex creatures. From macro to micro, our design is beautiful, intricate and marvelous to behold. I remember watching a short video in physics class in high school similar to the one below which showed the wave dynamics of a crowd of people:
People, when moving in an aggregated mass, tend to “go with the flow” in a way that modifies their approach to fulfilling their self-determined desires. Given that human beings are generally gregarious creatures, it follows that the longing to belong tend to bring them together into masses that move in concert with one another.
These masses are unified in purpose, interest or some other common denominator, and the individual actors tend to trade personal identity for group identity. The homogenized group may be as small as two, and if you’ve ever watched a young couple lose themselves in one another, you know what I mean. Scaled out significantly, you begin to see larger groupings such as races, religions, nationalities and so on, which are masses of people who recognize a common identity.
The rise of individualism is apparently a recent phenomenon, fueled by the great thinkers of the Renaissance. I imagine that this was only the rebirth of the idea and that individualism was generally accepted as a cosmology in earlier civilizations, but it is hard to imagine a grouping of people more tied to the notion of individualism, self-determination and self-realization than modern Western society.
We – especially in America – see ourselves as individuals capable of independent function. For many the independence is based on a freedom from the deterministic oversight of a Creator, for others it is based on the freedom from the unifying and directive control of a Church, while for some it is based on the relative sense of independence stemming from the freedoms promised by the Constitution that governs our Republic.
The roots of self-reliance, self-love, self-education are found in the soil of the notion of individualism. The rise of knowledge and the structural members of individualism – free will and choice – create the impression of self-determination, yet the physics of the matter tell a different tale. Aggregated individuals become groups and the groups take on a life of their own that in many both obvious and subtle ways undermines and dilutes the potent and catalytic influence of free will and choice.
The net result is that in many groups there are individuals who would fight to the death to defend their right to individual expression, yet they more often than not do so on the basis of the dictates of a larger group, rather than at their own behest. The perception of individualism, in my observation, is more important for the large majority of people than the reality of its manifestation.
A question I would love to realize the answer to is this: is there a unifying impulse or compulsion inherent in life itself that better heard and heeded would create a more harmonious and productive whole? Individual actors, acting primarily on the basis of unadulterated self-interest, produce in large measure the world we have today. Everything else in the observable world seems to function according to a more natural, deeper, invisible impulse.
Even our own complex, highly organized physical and energetic bodies seem to be guided by something that we haven’t sufficiently understood or explained to date. We have compiled a mountain of knowledge over the last six centuries, but what really have we learned about how to live better, more productive, happier, more harmonious lives? Precious little in my estimation.
In a world where everyone simply does what is right in his or her own eyes, without respect to a deeper unifying influence, the lowest common denominators – fear and greed – reign supreme. These base influences not only seem inescapable, they seem normal and are determined by social and physical science alike to be natural. But are they?
I don’t think that we can conclude, without reasonable doubt, that we do not have an ability to perceive and to move in concert with a higher common denominator. As human beings we tend to focus on that which we can see and we consequently explain away and dismiss, often with prejudice, that which we cannot see or adequately explain through the lens of our present consciousness. Call it group bias, fanaticism, prejudice or whatever you’d like, limited thinking leads to limited function and limited function constricts vision and understanding.
My own thinking on the matter at present is that individualism and determinism are not opposites, but instead complements. Free will and choice are vital to right function, but I do not feel that it is safe to conclude that they operate without respect to some other coordinating influence.
What about you? Another cup of coffee or tea might be in order at this point before you answer… Have a great day!