“The positive side of modern individualism is to give everyone more responsibility and autonomy, its negative side is to decrease solidarity and increase loneliness.”
The following text is inspired by the thoughts of Pierre Le Coz, philosopher, specialist in ethics
The question that occupies Pierre Le Coz is about the contradictions between “being together” and “working together”, which I will expand to include “learning together”. How to learn together when individualism is the only horizon? Throughout our education, practiced from an early age in a ranked school system that seeks to bring out the brightest individuals, the collective dimension is underestimated, collaborative learning is presumed.
The whole question running through the philosopher’s mind is the intersection between individual interest and collective interest. At work we see the emergence of a variety of forms of collectives, start-ups, cooperatives that seek alternatives to the sole satisfaction of the individual interests of the owner of the enterprise. The collective sounds like a resource or an asset. In order for this to succeed, however, the question arises as to the methods of support. What practices should be valued so that collective time can emerge?
Back to ethics
For Aristotle, “man is by nature a social animal”. But in order to break free from this decree, everyone takes the time to choose their collective. This choice affects all areas of life. Self-love progresses to a point where individuals seek emancipation from personal past, they are not afraid to divorce, they are also able to break free from social routine and look for novelty, sensation, and when the economy no longer suits them, they change companies.
If man is a social animal, he is not a sheep. A piece of individualism is noticeable. But individualism is not necessarily narcissism, selfishness, or even withdrawal. Individualism is a form of social organization opposed to the holistic model. The notion of individualism takes on a political meaning, disseminated by Tocqueville, based on the right of individual independence, not to submit to the dictates of religion and to choose one’s likes and fate.
This entrenchment of individualism dates back to the Age of Enlightenment and Rousseau’s social contract. The collective no longer owes its legitimacy to history, the past or religion, but to individual decisions. The wording of Article 6 of the Declaration of Human Rights also states: “The law is an expression of the general will and results from a calculation of the particular will”.
Individualism is still the right to lose interest in public space. It is a right to individual independence; a right to participate or not to participate, used particularly in Western democracies.
way of individualism
Individualistic culture is a civilizing process. Louis Dumont (2015), Anthropologist, relativizing Christian and Eastern cultures. For example, the Indian caste is a collective that cannot be challenged by the individual because religion does not allow it. The individual has no substance in Indian religion. The individual has no absolute value, while the Christian Bible proclaims unconditional love for every being, the kingdom of heaven belongs to all. Christianity prepares contemporary individualism.
Marcel Gauchet goes so far as to say that Christianity is “the religion of forsaking religion.” The ultimate avatar of the Christian religion would be “human rights” and the “social contract” as the culmination of a doctrine centered on the individual. The Declaration of Human Rights makes individual freedom part of human nature. She declared in 1789 “All men are born free and equal”. As a side note, liberty comes before equality.
What does individualism reveal to us?
Individualism favors new values of creativity and tolerance, as singular pathways claim legitimacy beyond traditional collectives. This individualism is opposed to the holistic society, the “community” (Tönnies, 2015), for which sacrifice and devotion to the religiously cemented group is an end. The purpose of the life of individuals is to perpetuate and pass on the knowledge of the elders, the prophets. In the community system, the individual sacrifices himself for the collective. His place is fixed from birth. It is determined by the social development of the parents. Individualism is opposed to wholeness. Now the collective is at the service of the individual.
With modernity, the past is gone. Individualism has an air of adventure, progress as continuous and collective improvement takes on a whole new meaning. What is beginning to dawn with individualism is happiness, what Saint Just will say is a new idea in Europe. While the Christian life is theoretically one of suffering and renouncing better access to Paradise, individualism promises happiness here and now. The culture of entertainment, emancipation of mind and body is very new.
Gilles Lipovetsky (1989) conjures up in his work “The era of emptiness” for the time of the XVIII. Century up to 1960 a normative individualism with moral values and duties towards the collective. Working for a collective, striving for collective ideals with the socialist or communist movements (25% of post-war voters in France) is a quest for political utopia and progress. It should be noted that the entire period was devoted to the emergence of lifelong education, which was to become professional education with the priority of group learning.
Individualism and bankruptcy of the collective
The ideals of order collapsed in the 1980s, work, family, country, party would give way to emptiness. There is no more past, no more future. Just sex, entertainment, the pursuit of self-realization. Does individualism bankrupt the collective?
Despite the atomization of the social, individuals form groups, clans, networks, tribes (Maffesoli, 2019). You stay connected to the family; Club commitments 70,000 clubs are founded every year in a country like France. Places where we continue to live together remain. Miniaturized places to local interests. A society of individuals emerges (Elias 1997).
A quest for the regulation of the individualist is instituted. For example, being truly free does not mean destroying yourself, but respecting your body. The legislature even sets limits, for example prostitution is not an expression of freedom, it is forbidden. Abortion is limited to three months. Blood donations cannot be redeemed. The state does not allow free use of his body. Philosophers assert the notion of dignity to limit the excesses of individualism. It is also in the name of dignity for employees to leave their jobs if they do not feel respected.
From compulsory morality to the ethics of good feelings
Imposing a duty on an individual is becoming more difficult than ever. For example, a post-war message said, “Give your blood, do your duty,” but with the collapse of the moral code of duty, it is the individual who judges for himself what is acceptable. Incentive campaigns then suggest giving narcissistic gratifications from the donor, a current slogan would be “Give your blood, share your power”.
Individuals refuse to be lectured. The individual needs to be touched. Nothing must be imposed from outside, everything must come from within. The individual goes from a duty morality to a crush morality. But this morality of enthusiasm has uncertain consequences.
Going towards the individual we see another trend that could be called “liberal paternalistic”, it is about bringing the individual to the collective through seduction. This is the nudge theory, which attempts to manipulate behavior by distributing rewards. Thus, during the Covid epidemic, the freedom to be vaccinated is encouraged by granting freedoms to go to the cinema or to restaurants. Through the use of nudges, it will also be possible to develop public health policies aimed at achieving more physical activity. To take the stairs, we write philosophical quotes on the steps to encourage people to choose exertion (good for health) rather than the escalator. The nudge seduces the training with its way of seducing the learners and leading them to where the designer of a program wants them to go.
Consequences of this individualization on the paths of shared learning
From this individualism it is possible to understand that the strategy of the new collectives is based on seduction, through free adherence to fashion effects through a menu of choices that everyone is free to make. Training and education then pounce on fads, proclaiming the benefits of innovation (often technological) in an attempt to capture the energy of collaborative learning that sometimes seems to flee.
The individualistic bracket has existed since the 18th century, the climate crisis, the national debt and the major societal problems will come to an end because the solutions are collective and will not only be based on good will. India, China, Brazil and many countries that have entered the consumption age will accentuate the ecological problems.
The connection of the individual to the collective can be through a third party thinking about what a group is. Voluntary submission and common interests require moving from debate to dialogue. The arguments that rub against and confront each other seem to be from another time as individuals are often content to be right for themselves.
The “socio-cognitive conflict” will probably have to leave more room for a search for mutual complementarities and a search for learning alliances that lead us away from individual success and somewhat more from success in collective challenges.
Wikipedia Pierre Le Coz https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Le_Coz
Elias, N. (1997). The Society of Individuals. Fayard. https://www.etudier.com/dissertations/Fiche-De-Lecture-Norbert-Elias/331447.html
Lipovetsky, G. (1989). The Age of Void (p. 59). Gallimard.
Toennies, F. (2015). Community and society: basic categories of pure sociology. French university publisher.
Dumont, L. (2015). Contributions to individualism. An anthropological perspective on modern ideology. media broadcast.
Abensour, M. (1966, January). Saint-Just’s political philosophy: problems and social contexts. In Historical Annals of the French Revolution (pp. 1-32). Society for Robespierrist Studies.
Maffesoli, M. (2019). The time of the tribes. The Decline of Individualism in Postmodern Societies. Issues of the Round Table.
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