Rational Religion

Contact the author:
tuppennyprofet - at - aol - dot - com
(translate into a real email address)

The Cult of Individualism


Philosophers from other cultures accuse us in Western Civilization, and most particularly those of us in the United States, of glorifying the Individual over The Group.  Other traditions place much more of a premium on cooperation and "fitting in."


While I, personally, am very big on cooperation, "fitting in" has never been a high priority. 


Cooperation seems to be a logical and low-stress way of interrelating with others for everybody's benefit; as long as it does not become a unique form of tyranny reinforced by psychological and even physical pressures.  Unfortunately, in traditional societies, it often becomes exactly that, and I have no use for it.


"Fitting in" is nothing more than conformity for the sake of saving oneself and one's neighbors from the distress of dealing with one's reluctance to adopt protective coloration.  I have even less use for that, although my Midwestern upbringing prompts me to do it all the time. 


I imagine I am as individualistic as any reputedly sane person might be. (The insane are all unique; that is one of the definitions of insanity.)


But the Cult of Individuality is a different thing, and less defensible.


A faith may be bad or good (relatively, for the welfare of its adherents and their neighbors) depending upon the specifics of its doctrine and (too often) the personalities of its more influential believers.


A cult is almost always bad news.


The word implies passionate, slavish superstition-driven adherence to a set of principles; or overzealous obedience to the group's leaders; or both.  This adherence tends to consume so much of the individual believer's time and energy that she or he has none of either left for anything else; especially including sober reflection and dispassionate evaluation which might lead to inconvenient questions. 


Cult leaders tend to have inordinate power over their followers.  Human beings and power are a dangerous combination, as has been noted by objective thinkers down through history.   It is a curse of our nature that -- without careful training and sometimes nearly superhuman self-discipline -- we tend to handle power almost as badly as we handle sex; which is likely to be very badly indeed.


But, wait a minute!  How does an authority-ridden ultra-conforming group have anything to do with the idea of rugged individualism?  How can one person be a cult?


By believing with too little question in the super-ordinance of one's individual rights and privileges, to the exclusion of those of others, and behaving like the worst combination of both a cult follower and a cult leader; that's how.