Re-Thinking Individualism

The pandemic brought more than a few issues to light, especially for the United States. These issues have, at their core, our notion of individuality: our self-reliant, go-it-alone, pioneer spirit that we believe is central to our identity as Americans.

Governors and state governments found themselves at odds with the federal government, not for the first time, if you recall the civil rights movement and segregation in the 1960s.

But for many people, the issues were more personal and, yes, individual.

Basic questions arose: are we obligated to wear masks? Are we obligated to get vaccinated? Are we obligated to follow any or all of the guidelines or laws set forth by the government during a health emergency?

These specific questions fall under a broader philosophical umbrella: what is the relationship between the individual and society when a highly-contagious virus threatens the health of citizens and the security of the nation?

What are the rights of the individual? What are his/her responsibilities to the state and to society?

Can these rights be limited during an emergency? Or do the rights of the individual always take precedent over the safety of the general public?

At what point do individual rights negatively impact public safety? Or do they at all?

If we wear masks to protect ourselves and others, are we ‘losing our freedoms’? Or are we simply being smart during a dangerous time?

If we don’t get vaccinated, can we be forced from our jobs? Can we be moved to the sidelines of society, unable to enjoy restaurants, bars, concerts, and museums?

How far do we take our ‘individualism’? How do we, in the final analysis, define it, or redefine it, so it serves us well going forward?

Plenty of questions, with one simple answer: true individualism is the realization that one is a member of society, that one has a role to play in that society, that one has an individual identity, but also a group obligation.  That’s what we’ve got to evolve to.

No man is an island. We are dependent upon one another. We are responsible to one another. Every day, we compromise. We adjust. We accept.  We try to prioritize and get what’s most important to us. But most of the time, we don’t get everything we want out of life. Hell, most of the time, we don’t get everything we want when we order a pizza. Didn’t I ask for no onions? 

But when you combine a global pandemic–an enemy we can’t see, smell, quantify, or control–with social media–an epidemic entirely of its own–the conditions become ripe for bad decisions, poor behavior, serious consequences, and long term effects.  We are extremely afraid. We don’t understand a lot of what’s going on. We start to grasp at straws. We are tempted to act out.

Logic goes out the window. Passions run hot. Dogma sets in. Stupidity runs rampant.

Lucky for us, we may be on the downhill run with COVID 19 and its devastation. Let’s hope. What we need to examine more thoroughly, though, is what made people act so crazy? So contrary to their own personal good and the public good?

People understand condoms and why they are used, but…masks? We’re going to protest against masks? During a pandemic?

Do they work? Did they work? Who cares? They might. If you want to ignore science, just be fatalistic about the whole thing: it’s better than nothing.

If nothing else, wearing a mask might show that you’re a team player. That you at least pretend to care about other people. But, hey, knock yourself out if you don’t want to. Parade around and cluck like a rooster that thinks he makes the sun come up with his crowing.

Ramble on about your ‘rights’ as an individual, but remember that you pay into Social Security, along with a lot of other people. You’ll want your monthly benefits check, in the near future if not, you know, soon. You expect police and fire protection. You like paved roads. You like public education. You like national security. None of that is individual. All of that is a group endeavor.

We’re not as individual as we think we are. That does not negate the value of thinking for yourself, charting your own path in life, and standing up for what you believe in. It just means this: know the scope of the individual. Great and mighty and vast on occasion, limited, dependent, and uncertain many other times.

We need to re-think and redefine our idea of what it is to be an individual. We need to look at this in the context of our community and our country.

If we don’t do some soul-searching, figure this out, come to some conclusions, and make some corrections, we’re not going to fare well going forward. We have to be less like teenagers, who try so hard to be different that they all end up looking and acting the same, and be more like adults. Adults recognize that they can dress pretty much alike and be polite to others, but still think for themselves.

And that’s what it’s all about. So let’s take the rhetoric down a notch and put on our Articulate Thinking Hats for a moment.

What is our role in our community? How do we best fill that role with our individual contributions? How can we best live among our fellow citizens? What makes sense for a particular time or situation? When do we take a stand? When do we make allowances? What really makes us unique? How do we know when not to follow the herd?

Thought-provoking. Life-improving. Not easy to answer, but certainly necessary to consider.

Today’s individualism. Less John Wayne. More Michel de Montaigne.

  • BGT


9 thoughts on “Re-Thinking Individualism

  1. Greetings .
    Of course you are correct in most of what you’ve put forth here, but especially in your question, “when do we make a stand?” It’s clear that, for many, this is that ‘when’. Benefiting from society and government is, in fact, a two way street and, since we pay for that street through our labors, we get to decide whether the street is still navigable…or not. It is not so simple a thing as to throw up a street sign that says “duty” to such complex societal conditions, and expect everyone to follow it.
    Reading your book OM and planning to pass along to the YA in my life. With the understanding, of course, that while we have responsibilities to our societies, we also have them to ourselves.

  2. Another very timely commentary. For too many here in the U. S. of A., I fear that Reason does not enter into the monologue, internal or otherwise. The problem is nothing new, and so many seem so entrenched in their sociopolitical attitudes and related echo chambers at this point that I don’t know how we might adequately address and solve the problem. It transcends Covid. The pessimist in me says we have gone beyond the tipping point and 65 to 70-ood million citizens on the country are beyond any form of compromise or consensus. They and their figureheads have painted themselves into a figurative corner, and the rest of us must get along the best we are able without them. As my grandmother used to say about so much in life, they are our cross to bear.

    Kind Regards,


  3. There’s a saying in the food industry that adults eat with their mouths and children eat with their eyes. I think it means that immature, inexperienced people are easily influenced by superficial qualities because they haven’t yet learned to appreciate what’s important. Maybe this explains why some people seem to believe that liberty means they can do whatever they want and any rule or request they don’t like is a violation of their rights.

  4. I sometimes wonder how anti-maskers would have reacted to mandatory mask wearing if Covid was as transmittable as the flu with the lethality of Ebola.

  5. When smoking was becoming regulated, there was a statement floating around: “Your rights end where my nose begins.” This applies in this current mask debate, in my opinion. We wear masks to protect others, not just ourselves, out of duty, caring and kindness, especially for those who are at high risk around us.

  6. As a follow-on from Lisa Ann’s quote above, I would like to ask the following:

    does someone else’s right to splatter their body with ‘ink’ end, where my visual space becomes offended? Does a fellow passenger’s right to have a face-time call with loudspeaker blaring in the business class lounge end, where the hearing acuity of fellow passengers begins ? Does someone else’s right to walk down the pavement whilst texting with the expectation that any and all others will get out of the way end, when I wake her up by walking slap bang into her ? Which I did.

    Rights, like privileges, carry responsibilities.

    They also have limits.

  7. Many Covid sceptics, Republicans and conspiracy peddlers argue that the economy precedes health. This, in my opinion, is inhumane.

    But somehow they just echo what capitalism stands for, today. The economy already precedes health/well-being anyway! Just look at the opioid crisis.

    Individualism is an issue, but it’s the manifestation of something more structural: an unsustainable economic model.

  8. This is a blog about Old Money values.

    I can’t think of any family more Old Money than the Rockefellers.

    So, I’m going to leave this gem here from JD himself, capitalization for emphasis by me:


    I believe in the supreme worth of the INDIVIDUAL and in his right to life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.

    I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.

    I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE and not their master.

    I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world OWES NO MAN A LIVING but that it owes every man an OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A LIVING.

    I believe that THRIFT is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

    I believe that TRUTH and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.

    I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character—not wealth or power or position—is of supreme worth.

    I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.

    I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the INDIVIDUAL’S HIGHEST FULFILLMENT, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.

    I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that RIGHT CAN AND WILL TRIUMPH OVER MIGHT.


    The Thinking WASP

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.