Do you remember, your President Nixon?
Do you remember, the bills you have to pay?
Or even yesterday?
Have been the un-American?
Just you and your idol sing falsetto
’bout Leather, leather everywhere, and
Not a myth left from the ghetto
Well, well, well, would you carry a razor
In case, just in case of depression?
Sit on your hands on a bus of survivors
Blushing at all the afro-Sheeners
Ain’t that close to love?
Well, ain’t that poster love?
Well, it ain’t that Barbie doll
Her hearts have been broken just like you
David Bowie, Young American
One of the more interesting discussions I have had recently, questions the modern conception of ‘individuality.’ As a modern American, the individual is supposed to be primary. Wants, needs, must-haves. Personal satisfaction. Freedom of Choice. These are the ideals we live by as Americans.
My honey, a Libertarian with Progressive leanings, once noted that I seemed to have a certain, distaste, for individuality. I found that observation to be rather ironic, as I have always considered myself to be quite the individual. I have always prided myself on making my own choices, living my own ideals, avoiding the herd mentality almost instinctively. In fact, in other discussions, I have queried him on his strong emotional reaction to what miscellaneous other people think of him. It is foreign to me to be terribly concerned about such a thing.
At the same time, I have recognized that some of my life goals: those involved with building community, in particular; downplay the needs of the individual in the interest of said community. The necessary understanding that the best interest of the community as a whole, generally are also the best interest of the individuals within. So I did understand where he was getting this idea that I held individuality to be less than primary.
After covering this topic unsuccessfully many times over, we had a breakthrough. In my mind, there are two different meanings when I hear the word individuality. The positive: self expression, liberty and personal integrity inherent in ‘being your own person’ and the negative: the american dream version of individuality that implies self sufficiency at any cost (including poverty, social isolation and a stubborn unwillingness to be ‘supported’ or give support), selfish personal aggrandizement and political/social irresponsibility.
In the first case, I am an individualist, par excellence. I have never felt terribly driven by peer pressure. I have sought out people that admire my individuality and strive for the same. I have refused to allow negative reactions to my quirkiness to impact my self image or self respect – rather treating those negative reactions as validation that bing true to myself is the right way for me to be.
In the second case, I was raised to believe in the primacy of the individual, but over time I have found the basic premise to be flawed. I have railed against the assumption that people don’t matter, that only our own success and ‘respectability’ matters. And I have completely dismissed the assumption that people are meant to be primarily alone.
What do you think? Are you an individualist? Of what sort? If the second, tell me how I have mis-characterized your opinions and feelings on the subject. If the second, I already know I admire your choice, so introduce yourself.
(Originally Posted September 1, 2006)