Another day, another op-ed bemoaning the liberal plight of me-dom–while collective freedoms continue to erode. How did we get here? When did the conversation (with yourself) become a platform to judge and vilify everyone you can’t convince to mirror your personal politics? The answer is very simple: it happened when the capitalist class realized that individualism was their greatest tool in domination of all other classes.
How do Capitalists use Individualism to profit, divide, and conquer?
Humans evolved to live collectively. We are, by nature, predisposed to live in this way. Primitive societies had well established community responsibility. Sure, they cared about one another, but also, they enjoyed lives of mutual benefit via this arrangement. They shared the burdens of living: building shelter, sourcing food and water, child care, health maintenance, and disaster response. This degree of cooperation would make a contemporary Capitalist shudder.
What if we collectively decided what goods were produced, and the surpluses of production were shared? What if neighbors shared appliances instead of purchasing one or more per household? What if neighbors grew their own food and shared the excess rather than let it go to waste? What if children and teens were content to accept clothing that no longer physically fit their peers–instead of packing a parent in for a trip to the mall every time they discover a new facet to their identity that must be displayed like a badge cut from the cloth of foreign slave-labor…?
Individualism, in many cases, is an evergreen strategy to sell your idea of yourself to you. Love the environment? “Shop green,” says Capitalism. Fuck the patriarchy? “Have we got a t-shirt for you.” Want to get back to your roots? “Why don’t you send us your DNA first so we can make sure you’re connecting with the right roots.” See how that works? Now your quest (and Capitalism would like it to be an endless quest, please) to “find yourself” has been commodified for a profit that will be turned around and used to undermine your fundamental rights. Whoopsie.
It’s not just dollars and cents that keep Capitalists in love with Individualism. There is another role that promotion of the individual interest plays, and it really shines in the aforementioned op-ed.
Individualism has a way of—well–dividing people. While echoing Capitalism’s ingrown competitive spirit, the author uses the language of division in her plea to care about others:
‘Why don’t you care the way I do?’
‘You are a fundamentally different person than I if you don’t want the price of your Big Mac to go up.’
Well, there is no way to get around the fact that we are fundamentally different from one another, that is biologically true, even if its truth is rather minuscule measured against the larger truth of how alike we are in our basic needs and desires. (Here’s one way we’re all very alike: we’re all getting unceremoniously screwed by dominant classes.)
The Capitalist Class will not only use your identity, politics, and principles to sell you stuff; they will also use it to isolate you from others that you might otherwise find unity with. This class of mega-wealth is inherently one of the smallest extant minorities, and their biggest fear is that the dominated classes, who outnumber them in nearly every aspect, will unite to fight back. They will sow seeds of discord til kingdom come, because unity among the dominated is the exact position from which their power will be challenged.
That old collectivist slogan, “united we stand, divided we fall,” is true as ever; but also: divided we stay down.
In the US, before entering legal adulthood, almost anyone can parlay a six figure debt into a four year stay in an incubator where one might refine the ability to articulate one’s individual identity politics. To this, the Capitalist runs his palms together and through a sinister grin says, “Yes, yes indeed! But have you heard that with a Master’s degree you can earn an average 18% larger salary in the workforce?”
Once culturally conditioned to conspicuously consume and divided by our Individualism and identity quests, we the people are ripe for further exploitation and dominance.
In the current storm of global crisis, it seems our energy is best spent in creating a level of agreement with each other, in working to establish a base of political unity. When we reach that point of unity, we can begin to organize. We can consolidate our forces.
To all the people who see that Capitalism is the problem, and acknowledge the need for collectivity over individualism: Time to unite.