Throughout most of the world people are taught to look at reality in a very polarized way. When certain issues are presented to us through mainstream circles they are usually oversimplified to the point where all concepts are either black or white, and all people are either good or bad, with no in between.
The reality of the situation is that things are much more complicated than that, there are usually many different ways of looking at things and many different sides to the story. This is especially true in the study of philosophy, because terms are constantly being redefined and ideas constantly reexamined with every new generation of philosophers to accommodate the new insight and information that has become available over time.
One polarity that is vastly misunderstood and oversimplified by the general population is that of individualism and collectivism. Now, it is true that many different people have many different ideas about what these words mean, but what really determines the true value of any concept is the consequences that come as a result of that concept being implemented by society.
The mainstream stereotype of an individualist is someone who is selfish and who has no desire at all to participate in the community. The contrasting view of a collectivist is apparently someone who cares about the tribe as a whole, so much so that they are willing to sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of the tribe. While this may be what these names have come to represent in our culture, and the stereotypes may be true in some cases, these definitions are overlooking the impact that these philosophies have on the real world and the realm of politics.
To be an individualist has nothing to do with selfishness. It is simply a way of looking at the world where you see billions of individuals, instead of various groups of people separated by race, nationality, gender, religion or social status. Oddly enough, it is collectivism that allows for people to be divided into groups and puts the innocent at risk by devaluing the lives of individuals.
The reason why this is such a danger is because when people are grouped together in a political sense, large numbers of those people can be held responsible for anything that an individual among them may or may not have done. Furthermore, when sacrifice is seen as a virtue it becomes even easier for a tyrant to come along and take advantage of this perspective for their own ends.
This idea of collectivism is the mindset that allows tyrants to wage war. If each individual on this earth was held accountable for their own personal actions then the full scale war that we see today would never even materialize to begin with. If individuals were actually seen as who they were instead of what group they belonged to, there would not be millions of lives sacrificed for the sake of hunting down a few among them who were accused of some real or fabricated transgression.
Likewise, it is this mentality that is the root of all the bigotry that separates humanity. If all of the people on the earth were seen as individuals then racism, sexism, classism and other forms of discrimination would cease to exist and everyone would be responsible for their own actions.
The rhetoric behind collectivism sounds great at face value, but the real life consequences of this world view tell a very different story. It may be natural for humans to form social groups, but we must recognize that those groups are all filled with unique individuals who should not be forced to compromise any of their freedom for the sake of a group or authority figure.
Respecting the rights and needs of individuals is actually a much more caring way of looking at things, than grouping people into categories and expecting them to forfeit their personal sovereignty to satisfy the whims of other human beings.
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