I have a brother who is very passionate about politics. One of the relationships he often brings up in political debate is the relationship between the individual and society. Personally, I studied analytical philosophy in college. I studied the relationship between the individual and properties (think Plato’s bifurcation), not the relationship between the individual and society.
Anyway, my brother is always arguing that individuals do not exist on their own. They are connected to other individuals; that is, they have a relationship with society. According to my brother, Capitalism suffers from an extreme form of individualism without acknowledging a connection to society, and is, therefore, flawed. On the other hand, Communism is flawed in the other direction by placing too much emphasis on society (i.e. the collective) over the individual. According to my brother, the reality of the situation is something more of a hybrid. People are sometimes drawn toward the collective, and sometimes drawn to be by themselves. According to him, this is the root of the problem with the American way of life.
I’m not sure if the American way of life is any more problematic than it has always been. Capitalism has, I believe, produced more goods for more people, and lifted more people out of poverty than any other system ever tried. But it is not perfect. Indeed, the human condition is probably imperfectable. Regardless, I want to go down on record that I tentatively agree with my brother’s notion of a hybrid-like relationship between the individual and society. To that end, I wish to point out a few examples of things that connect me to others in ways I can’t control. Basically, there are items and practices that are imposed on me because the rest of society accepts them without a second thought.
Health insurance. Once upon a time, when life was much more rugged and doctors made house calls, there was no such thing as health insurance (at least, I don’t think so). Yet, people lived and prospered and thought nothing of it. Now, if you fail to get health insurance you are considered irresponsible. Why? Because everyone else is getting health insurance; they are paying into the health insurance system, and if you skimp, they pay for your care. So, you really are sort-of connected in this regard. Similar arguments can be made for car insurance, home insurance, etc…. My point is not that insurance is a bad idea (in fact, it is a good idea and, currently, I am fully insured), but rather, that the existence of insurance implies a connection between the individual and society such that the individual is compelled to follow the preferences of society.
Smart phones. These really aren’t a luxury; they are becoming a necessary part of our lives and our economy, so much so, that the person who does not own a smart phone will suffer significant disadvantages in our current economy.
My favorite type of cereal no longer exists. In high school, I adored a cereal called “Crispy Wheats and Raisins.” I haven’t had it in years, because, I think, “they” stopped producing it. Basically, the invisible hand of the market determined that my favorite cereal is not profitable enough so it was removed from the marketplace. In other words, the cereal preferences of the majority of other Americans aligned against my own. The collective evaluation of my favorite cereal resulted in that cereal’s disappearance; so, we are kind of connected.
Those are three examples. I’m sure there are more.
I’m not sure I had a central point to this post; it was more of an intellectual exercise analyzing the connection of the individual to society.