Individual / Collective

Individual                            -                            Collective
Libertarian                          -                            Authoritarian
Part                                      -                            Whole
Member                               -                            Category
Concrete                              -                            Abstract
Process                                 -                            State
Becoming                            -                            Being
Chaos                                   -                            Order


In Balinese society, on the other hand, we find an entirely different state of affairs. Neither the individual nor the village is concerned to maximize any simple variable. Rather, they would seem to be concerned to maximize something which we may call stability [...]

When they speak as members of the village council, the players by hypothesis are interested in maintaining the steady state of the system - that is, in preventing the maximization of any simple variable the excessive increase of which would produce irreversible change. In their daily life, however, they are still engaged in simple competitive strategies.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Bali: The Value System of a Steady State'), p.124-5

We are villagers.

As members of a village we always have the balance of the village in mind, even if only unconsciously. The steady state of the village - the system of which we are a part - is our ultimate concern, running beneath all individual concerns. We know it must be this way because the village is our ecosystem, and we understand that our continued well-being goes hand in hand with that of our environment. The individual good is always, in the last, housed within the greater good.

Our village is a balanced system, acting as an effective container for all of the various needs of each of its individual members. In a steady system, the maximization of any single variable will lead to an imbalance in the system. In terms of our village, this means that if the needs of a single villager were to be prioritized over the rest, then the harmony of our village would be upset. Thus, the maximization of any single variable (any individual interest) is prevented. Individual concerns are always secondary to communal concerns. The individual is always checked in favour of the village.

So whilst we remain an individual, we must also be a villager; these two roles work to balance each other. Individual concerns must always be balanced by communal concerns.

In our society, which primarily takes its direction from the imperatives of commerce, we have lost our villages, in every sense. With no village to contain us, we have been freed from the shackles of our role as villager. The individual need no longer be restricted, and his concerns and desires can run rampant, unchecked. Viewed from the perspective of village life, our current state of affairs is imbalanced. Yet, if the village is now redundant, then presumably so are the values of the village.

However, we must question how sustainable rampant individualism is. It may be that the role of villager provided us with an important balance, something that all of us who have evolved beyond village life now miss. The communal aspect points us towards something larger than ourselves; invests us in something beyond our own constricting borders. If we decide that this is important, then perhaps it is time to think about how we can rebuild our villages, and regain our balance.

If the social [...] is considered more comprehensive and important than the individual [...], one can justify sacrificing the well-being of the individual for the sake of the well-being of the whole.

In modern political terms, this approach is known as fascism (though state socialism has often behaved in the same way).

Because some radical ecologists suggest that ecosystem are more important than individuals (human or otherwise), modernist critics often label radical environmentalists and spiritually-oriented deep ecologists as ecofascists.

[Michael E. Zimmerman]
'Ken Wilber's Critique of Ecological Spirituality'

Innovations become irreversibly adopted into the on-going system without being tested for long-time viability; and necessary changes are resisted by the core of conservative individuals without any assurance that these particular changes are the ones to resist.

Individual comfort and discomfort become the only criteria for choice of social change and the basic contrast of logical typing between member and the category is forgotten until new discomforts are (inevitably) created by the new state of affairs.

Fear of individual death and grief propose that it would be 'good' to eliminate epidemic disease and only after 100 years of preventive medicine do we discover that the population is overgrown. And so on.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 238

The “kinship of the creative hero with deity” constitutes a phenomenon of tremendous import, as of yet radically uncomprehended: consciousness plays a world-constructing role, in a manner that is neither epiphenomenal nor trivial.

It is for this fundamentally non-metaphysical reason that the individual cannot be sacrificed to the exigencies of social and political convenience, as those who live in western democracies have painfully come to realize:

the “world-constructing capacity” of the individual must be respected and honored as something sovereign, lest the forces of chaos or complexity re-attain the upper hand, or the state rigidify and doom itself.

Religious stories, occupying the necessarily metaphorical space at the base of our cultures of belief, provide the foundation for the dogmatic concepts and action patterns that structure our social interactions, and stabilize the territories that we all share.

More importantly, however, functional religious systems ensure that our shared beliefs are predicated on a concept of the individual that makes respect for the capacity of courageous, creative individual action in the face of complexity the most fundamental and ineradicable of values.

Creative exploratory action in the face of anomaly and chaos generates, sustains and renews the world.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 453

Related posts:-
Order and Chaos
Top-down / Bottom-up
A Higher Power
You or The Work
Lost Tribe