Individualism is the concept of being independent, having control and having privacy. It’s being able to take care of yourself; it’s the belief that everyone is unique, and it focuses on the importance of self-reliance. Which all sounds great right? Being able to have your own opinion, to say and think what you want and support yourself. It has also helped shift the focus on ourselves and our personal growth. It’s especially favorable from a feminist perspective considering the hardships of women. All of these abilities and opportunities have become available to us, but like anything else, as individuals, we tend to overuse things. We take advantage, we overstep and we lose sight of what our intentions were, to begin with. That’s where hyper-individualism comes into play.
With the good comes the bad. It’s not to take away from all the good things individualism has brought us but to acknowledge the negative aspects. To acknowledge how hyper-individualism, which is in hindsight having no regard for society, has affected the system and once again favors those with privilege. The United States highly values individualism and highly pushes this agenda. Which is where the idea of being “self-made” and solely focusing on yourself came from. If you work hard enough and build yourself up, you’ll be successful. It’s that easy! Take certain celebrities, for example. Aside from the systemic advantages they hold, they’re completely self-made. Obviously.
To look at hyper-individualism, you have to look at the layers beneath it. Capitalism is a main contributor. When individuals don’t succeed, the blame is placed on them instead of the structure of the system that has been built to purposely go against those who aren’t white or wealthy. Capitalism is meant to seem like we have an endless amount of choices, but the truth is these choices are not available to everyone. We are taught that these choices we make are the results of our situations, when really, sex, gender, race and ethnicity are all major factors that contribute to our situations. Not recognizing this is also part of the problem, especially when there is evidence proving that these all affect your place in society.
Our history and the steps taken to get to our current state as society wasn’t a one-man type of job either. The narrative of the hero has been repeated endlessly. It has caused us to think of every other person as competition when we really should be pushing towards unity. We make change through solidarity and through the support of each other. It’s never been just one hero, it’s the support of every single individual behind the one face being shown. There should be a clear balance between your own personal needs and beliefs and those of a community. At the end of the day, we are always a community.
We all have some type of internalized idea of stereotypes and ways of thinking because of the ways we’ve been conditioned. But even when we do come to terms with our personal bias, it’s hard to see the systemic problem as a whole. We’re always so quick to attack one individual who is causing an issue, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about attacking the entire system. We have to look at the way the structure works to recreate inequality.
Again, this isn’t to tear down the entire idea of individualism but to point out the flaws and systematic advantages within our structure. Being able to have rights and advocate is a huge privilege alone. To do better, we have to reprogram ourselves and unlearn the toxic ideas we have been taught. It’s about rebuilding ideas of unity to work together and create change in hopes of equality.