Individualism means emphasis on the individual person. Western culture’s embrace of individualism stems from its embrace of reason because, as we shall see, the individual — and only the individual — has the ability to reason.
Hero of Humanity is the Individual
A group of people does not have the ability to reason, strictly speaking. Only the individuals comprising the group do because all perception and thought takes place within the individual mind. There is no group brain.
A group of people, for example, may create something new. However, since a group is merely a sum of individuals, what the group produces is ultimately the result of individual reason and judgment. For example, the television is considered a group invention. And it is true that no single person invented it, but this does not change the fact that it resulted from the contributions of individuals, not a faceless collective.
Also, when a person uses ideas and achievements of others to create something new, something above and beyond what already exists, the creation is the person’s own individual accomplishment, a result of his or her own initiative, effort, ingenuity and reason—not that of his or her predecessors. The light bulb, for example, is Thomas Edison’s achievement, and his alone, because he brought it into existence, even though others before him invented glass, a screw base, etc.
Everything that makes human life secure and enjoyable—from achievements in medicine, music and engineering to breakthroughs in transportation, literature and government—was ultimately the creation or discovery of one: the individual using his or her power of reason. The individual, therefore, is the hero of humanity.
The individual, with his or her power of reason, can gain knowledge, competency, self-reliance and self-respect through his or her own effort and self-development. In other words, the individual can achieve independence; he or she need not have a fundamental dependence on others, including God, for survival and well-being.
Achieving independence does not require that one live alone, say, on a self-sustaining farm. A person has much to gain, such as knowledge and trade, from living in society. Rather, being independent requires that one think for oneself and pay one’s own way through life by working productively.
By definition, being independent rules out acting as a parasite, such as engaging in crime or, as a normal course of living, relying on private charity or government welfare.
To have the faculty of reason implies that one has free will. Thinking is an act of choice; it is not automatic or instinctive. It is initiated and sustained by one’s own volition. A person has the choice to think, to question, to judge, to fully focus on reality or to coast mindlessly and then, by default, become a mere product of his or her genes and social influences.
For example, a person can be raised by racist parents and come to personally adopt their irrational views. This person, however, especially by the time he reaches adulthood, can choose to think about and question the truthfulness of his bigoted views and reject these views, even if this process is difficult. If he does not question his views and remains a racist then this, too, is his choice.
The individual, therefore, is not just capable of being independent. The individual isindependent in the sense that what he believes and does—in other words, who he is—is ultimately a product of his own choice. As a result, the individual is self-responsible, the master of his own destiny and, in a word, sovereign.
Non-Western culture rejects individualism. It holds that all achievement is ultimately a gift from God or/and a product of the group—not a result of the individual and his or her reason, volition and initiative.
In other words, nonwestern culture may hold that God controls, and is responsible for, everything—including the individual and whatever he or she may achieve.
It may also hold that the individual is merely a feeble, dependent and expendable fragment or cell of the group. And the group (such as society, the state, the class, the tribe) is regarded as a super-organism that is somehow apart from and superior to the sum of its individual members. Consequently, according to this view, any and all achievement is the achievement of the group, that is, of a faceless collective.
Therefore, God or/and the group, not the individual, is considered sovereign and the primary value in nonwestern culture. Consequently, the individual in nonwestern culture is viewed as having relevance and value only insofar as he knows his place—that is, only insofar as he submits to, depends on and serves the will of God or/and the group.
Islam, for example, literally means “to submit.” And communism and socialism, with commune and social meaning “group,” are based on the primacy of the group and the subjugation of the individual to it.
Reason or Submission
In nonwestern culture, submitting and surrendering oneself to the will of God or/and the group has nearly irresistible appeal because reason is devalued in the culture. This causes the individual to believe that reason—his own independent ability to grasp knowledge and truth—is inadequate to provide the guidance that his life and well-being require.
This leaves the individual feeling helpless, like a bird without wings, and desperate for anyone to tell him what to believe and do. As a result, the individual freely subjugates himself to the will of God or/and the group since they, not the individual, are viewed as powerful and efficacious.
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It is unnatural for the individual to be weak, submissive and dependent. Now is the time for the world to embrace the ideal of individualism by recognizing that it is proper for the individual to be rational, strong, independent, heroic and, in essence, the source of all achievement and greatness.