“To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people.”
Promo for The Century of the Self, Adam Curtis
Even if this belief is challenged by Curtis’ documentary, which illustrates how Freudian psychology has been employed by business and politics to control the masses through the illusion of individual power, the power of the individual is still formidable.
In the West we live in a culture which cultivates and rewards individualism. Though only a specific kind – survivalists are a joke and people outside of conventional society are suspicious, but we all act as consumers in order to get through the day.
That’s not to say we are all driven by consumerism, but if we want to eat, sleep under a roof, create something or enjoy something we have to accept our role as consumers or seek out an alternative – confining us to the crowd outside of conventional acceptance.
A great many people are very good at making our individualist society pay for them, but this is more a testament to the ingenuity of human beings than proof that individualism is a natural human instinct. The rage expressed against the 1% who are particularly good at manipulating the system only highlights how non-human individualism actually is.
Individualism, especially consumerism, is focused on ‘want’ and not gratitude or the urge to contribute towards something external, something ‘not you’. It’s a one-way path, where the world passes into the individual and remains there. Individualism hoards energy.
But for me this is only the first stage of a cycle, the childhood of individualism. The possibility of a return path from individual to the world is occasionally hinted at – those people whose ‘want’ actually drives them to positively contribute, even if they remain essentially selfish regardless of achievement.
If the first stage focuses on the things which travel along that path – the gain which being an individual brings – then the second stage begins when the end point of the path, your own self, finally becomes the focus. In this adolescence of individualism, the questions “Who am I?”, “Why do I want these things?” or “What do I really want?” are unavoidable.
They are huge and alarming questions. I have never felt that anyone taught me to answer them, and my developing self-awareness was so hamstrung by guilt and shame that I was trapped in this stage for almost my entire conscious life. Until I at last discovered that I’d had the capacity to provide the answers myself all along.
By accepting my self I could begin completing the cycle and discover how to return the energy which passed from the world into me back out into the world, and in a way I feel contributes something – the maturity of individualism. My method is this blog, my future writing career. My method is in my contributing to discussion, ideas, thought.
But I’m only a writer, that’s only my method. What’s your method of returning to the world? Look around you and you’ll see a hundred other people, each with their own innate method. But how many of us have discovered what that is?
At a weekend away last year I met a group of people I’ve become hugely interested in, particularly one guy who told me about his business in making furniture and how he was building his own house with his girlfriend, at the same time as a full-time tutor post.
He got up early to use his workshop, taught a full day, then returned home after working into the evening. The more we talked the more obvious it was that he had passed all the way along the cycle far earlier than I had. He had found his method.
Neither of us are exactly changing the world but we are both contributing to it. And, although both of our aims would be to make enough of a living out of our methods that we didn’t have to do anything else, there’s a difference between us and business.
Principally it’s in that simple word, ‘enough’. Consumerism, that one-way strain of individualism, has no understanding or place for the word enough because it suggests that there could possibly be an end to ‘want’, which is only possible if consumerism ends.
As I drew out the other week, the modern structure of business is also unfamiliar with the word enough. The desire to make a living out of your individual method only breaks the flow back into the world if you allow it to forget about ‘enough’ and focus on ‘more’.
I see a future where a vast gulf opens up – between child-like or adolescent individualists (businesses) driving for ‘more’ and mature individualists driven by getting ‘enough’. The businesses will only ever get bigger, because mid-size or smaller companies will be either consumed by corporations or will fail to support the drive for ‘more’, and die away.
The further the corporations get from individuals, the more the mature individualist groups will be free to express their methods and strive for quality that businesses focused only on wanting more are unable to match. And yet this new mature, mirror-like individualism will still be contributing to the world through the pursuit of individual goals.
If your method creates a product – writing, building, crafting – then it can be easy. But where I see the need for Government is in enabling a change to the shape of our culture so that individuals whose method isn’t so straightforward a match to retail-style society (ie, caring, teaching, healing) can fulfil their individual goals of having ‘enough’ too.
But my point right now is a request for everybody to ask what method exists within themselves, to strive for a mature individualism where that method is expressed in return for ‘enough’. Finding my method taught me that ‘enough’ is less than I thought I needed.
I’ve tried to open your mind this Open Minday, but if you’re interested in expanding your thoughts about society, economy or capitalism then @diane1859 @shepleygreen are the perfect place to start.