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The Problem of Individualism vs. Collectivism

  1. Jun 27, 2003 #1
    The Problem of "Individualism" vs. "Collectivism"

    Many scholars--sociologists, historians, etc.--like to classify societies, beliefs, and policies as belonging to or tending toward one of two separate categories - individualism or collectivism. Individualism is supposedly all about allowing freedoms of individual pursuit, without regard to society as a whole. Collectivism is a supposedly all about the suppression of the individual for the benefit of the many.

    I believe this to be a flawed classification, with grave implications for how it affects people's actions due to the false assumptions that it gives people, because my view does not fit in either category. In fact, it is a great example of the fallacy of dualism.

    I believe in the existence of intrinsic rights of the individual. I believe in the intrinsic value of the happiness of the individual, which gives rise to the rights of the individual. In fact, I content that the idea of the value and rights of the many is absurd without the idea of the value and rights of the individual. 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 0.

    however, this doesn't give any individual the righ to do whatever he wants without regard to others. On the contrary, the rights of other individuals are the justification for the restriction of any person's actions. No person should be allowed to step on the righst of another. and the greater the number of individuals harmed (as well as the extent to which each individual is harmed), the greater the crime. If one individual has rights to be protected, then surely individuals en masse have the same.

    So, the rememdy is to restrict the actions, not the rights, of people so that the rights of others may be protected. Obviously, the actions that are to be restricted are not rights, for the idea of rights would be a self-contradictory idea if someone has the "right" to infringe upon the rights of another.

    What this boils down to, ideally (although there are, of course, practical considerations), is that many people may not ethically gain from the infringement of the rights of any individual or individuals, and conversely, any individual may not ethically benefit from the infringement of the rights of the many, for "the many" is made up of individuals with their own individual rights.

    With my belief in the inherent rights of individuals, as well as with my fondness for individuality, I consider myself and individualist, However, I do fit the do not fit hte dualistic categorization of "Individualism" and "Collectivism" that persists.

    The issue of the conservation is a great way to see how my viewpoint fails to fall in the categorization. Someone might say that an Individualist would assert a person's right to exploit natural resources for his own profit. A person would say that Collectivists would reserve the resources for common use, denying an individual the right to use the materials, because it is for the good of the whole. Given my previous statements, I think that it is clear that I am not a "Collectivist." However, I would say that the rights of all people to access this common heritage puts restraints on any individual's right to use the resources, so that it does not interfere with the common rights of others, both current and future residents, to the resources. These limits would be imposed such that a person does not use up more than a reasonable amount of resources, given the populations with which he must share them, and that his actions do not negatively impact the indefiniteness of the resources, if they have potential for indefiniteness (such as that of forests).

    This viewpoint of mine does not squash the rights of the individual for a society, nor does it allow a person to do whatever he wants in the name of "freedom", but it asserts to equal rights of all individuals, and restrains individuals according to how their actions infringe upon the rights of others, and uses quantity of individuals as one consideration. It does not fit cleanly into traditional views of "Individualism" and "Collectivism".
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2003 #2
    Wasn't all of this written in the U.S. Constitution somewhere? :wink:

    I agree, without the recognition of the individual first, we could by no means have a "collective" -- i.e., of individuals.
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