General Question

Riser's avatar

Why does individualism require validity from a collective?

Asked by Riser (3467 points ) March 24th, 2008

I was thinking about individualism recently and realized that what makes someone “individual” in society is someone who dresses and/or behaves differently than the social norm, therefore requiring a majority to validate that they are different. Doesn’t this contradict the entire philosophy of individualism? Wouldn’t individualism, in purity, be found in the men and women who dress or behave exactly like everyone else but are conscience of the fact that they are only dressed and/or behave that way because they choose to not because they are trying to “fit in” with the social norm? That way only they, the individual, are validating their individualism.

Your thoughts?

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18 Answers

Randy's avatar

I think as people, we tend to have to put a label on everything. From that, even individualism has to be categorized so that we can feel better about it. It’s more comfortable that way.

To me, an individual is just someone who acts or does something in their own way, Therefor, everyone is an individual in some way.

bulbatron9's avatar

WOW! I have said it before, but No wonder you’re a writer!

You have opened my eyes, once again Big D!

delirium's avatar

We want to be part of the group. Its something that we’re naturally inclined towards as a species. The term ‘self actualization’ goes against our evolutionary prerogative, it seems….
That said, I find this can be best answered by over-anylizing the regina spektor song “Ghost of the corporate future”

“Well maybe you should just drink a lot less coffee,
And never ever watch the ten o’clock news,
Maybe you should kiss someone nice,
Or lick a rock,
Or both.”

“And people are just people,
They shouldn’t make you nervous.
The world is everlasting,
It’s coming and it’s going.
If you don’t toss your plastic,
The streets won’t be so plastic.
And if you kiss somebody,
Then both of you’ll get practice.”

“The world is everlasting
Put dirtballs in your pocket,
Put dirtballs in your pocket,
And take off both your shoes.
‘Cause people are just people,
People are just people,
People are just people like you.”

oneye1's avatar

I think randy is right we are like snowflakes no two are the same. We have all been giving different gifts if used right it makes the world a better place someone else may have the same gift in them as me but they are not me so the gift is different

cschack's avatar

If you require validation from the collective, you’re not much of an individualist in the first place, are you? So…yes, I agree.

cschack's avatar

I was going to edit the above post, but can’t quite figure out how, so apologies for the double entries.

Anyhoo, I think society as a whole has been pushed forward thanks to people who are unafraid of going their own way and looking at things from a different perspective. This has nothing to do with appearance. Claiming the earth revolved around the sun was more radical than wearing black clothes and an unusual haircut to school.

Anyway, the whole “be an individual” line of thinking seems mostly to be pushed on us for commercial purposes these days; it’s just another label, as Randy points out.

squirbel's avatar

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Individualism presupposes collectivism. Let us use Plato’s cave from his “Allegory of the Cave” to make a simple point. There are men in this cave, chained to the wall, and their only view of the outside is a very small opening far off. Now if one of these men manages to break free, and crawl out of the hole, he is automatically an individual, but only because the collective he left behind still exists. He is free, but only because there are those who remain chained. Etc, etc

It is a rough remake of a classic philosophical question, but hopefully the point is clear. Everything that does not have substance (ideas & idealogies) exists only when it has an opposite to be compared to.
Atheism presupposes theism. For if there were no humans who believed in gods, what would an athiest be?

Non-conformism presupposes conformity. If every man lived by his own law rather than that of a collective, what would a non-conformist be?

Existentialism presupposes death. If there were no death, would an existentialist be so gung-ho about “living it up?”

Just a few thoughts… I’ll stop rambling. :)

oneye1's avatar

@squirbel something I think you may enjoy is a lie the opposite of truth or is a lie the absence of truth

Bsilver's avatar

now I could be wrong as to the whole, but in my experiences those that seek validation for their “individuality” are moreso doing it to get recognition, which is basically the same concept, only a without seeking a level of approval for their actions.

Now I stopped caring what others thought about me long ago(mostly) simply for the mere fact that growing up, throughout HS, and even into college, where normally one would think tolerance and acceptance would be greater, people hated me for certain aspects of my life. It’s hard to look for validation when people hate your guts because of who you are, or how you live your life.

People claim individuality as sonething that sets them apart, and some go about doing it outwardly, but never realize, that who you are makes you unique. People can say “I am Brandon Silver” but they can never be me, no matter how much they try.

Simply put, people try to make themselves noticed, but not so much that it singles them out if a crowd.

And riser, always good to see an intellectually stimulating question.

Besafe's avatar

I wonder if we all have two sides to this coin. On one side we all tend to desire to belong (I see that as a basic human trait). On the other side of the coin we all want to be who we were put in this world to be (we all know inside we have a destiny in life). If so, I think as Riser suggested a pure individual wouldn’t be attempting to be different but would be one who can integrate both sides of the coin into his life walk in a way that he can be true to who he is on the inside and yet is comfortable being part of a larger group. Lots to ponder on this one – Thanks Riser

cwilbur's avatar

It depends on whether you’re being an individual because you want to do your own thing, or because you want to not do what other people are doing. The former type of individualism doesn’t require social validation; the latter type isn’t really even being an individual.

It depends on why people do things, which is not always immediately obvious. It’s hard to tell the difference on sight between someone who wears Doc Martens because he walks a lot and finds that they’re the most comfortable boots and someone who wears Doc Martens because he wants people to think he’s a punk—or because the “in crowd” is wearing Converse sneakers and he wants to wear an anti-sneaker. The former might be an individualist; the latter is just rebelling stupidly.

Zaku's avatar

Individualism is a description of a type of thinking or quality. It doesn’t have a pure form except the dictionary definitions, which refer to multiple ideas. So we all get to make up what it means for ourselves, or even if we value it or care.

Spargett's avatar

This is an interesting paradox. The question I wonder is what makes it real? Do people have to think it for it to exist, or does it do so independent of thought. Orange still exisited and was a color before it had it’s name.

One of those “if a tree falls in the woods” scenarios.

Personally I feel the only this something like this requires is contrast for perspective’s sake.

Zaku's avatar

Spargett, like most/all concepts, individualism doesn’t exist accept in the minds of people, at most by agreement. Individualism even less than most concepts, since it’s really a label for a class of thinking that anyone can invent for themselves.

Orange didn’t exist before the concept, but light at the frequencies we tend to agree to call orange did.

kawaii_ninja's avatar

No idea – all i have to say is:

THIS IS AN AMAZING QUESTION!!

I’m finished.

steelmarket's avatar

Until we are able to network our brains, we will never truly know what constitutes individualism. All of our perceptions of individualism are framed by not only how we perceive the actions of others but even more by how we react, consciously or not, to that stimuli. Our most radically different behaviors could seem nealy identical to an alien who has never encounter our species.

DeezerQueue's avatar

I’ve read this question several times before attempting any kind of a morphine induced response to it. I believe the answer lies in whether the collective allows the individuals their individualism and whether or not the collective encourages it or, at the very least, is not threatened by it. While it may require recognition by virtue of its existence, it does not necessarily mean that the collective should or must be compelled to change it. Isn’t that a sign of a maturing society?

labesilol's avatar

Individualism in it’s pure form refers to an individual who dresses/behaves and makes their own life choices based on its own happiness and beliefs. Never once he/she will question or ask for approval from others and never once it passed his/her mind to consider the acceptance of others based on his/her own choices in life. He is comfortable in his own skin regardless. Unless of course this individual feels the need to be accepted due to lack of confidence or other issues, or it might be to set himself apart from others and push people away due to some kind of resentment based on generalizations in his thinking of the world around him/her.

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