The Lure of Individualism

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Samuel Gasparre
Brett Miller
Politics of Identity
August 15th 2012
Final Paper
The Lure of Individualism
I would rather be ashes than dust! 
I would rather that my spark should burn out 
    in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.  I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom 
    of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.  The function of man is to live, not to exist. 
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. 
I shall use my time. 
-Jack London

As a human, I am painfully aware of my own mortality. The anxiety that comes from this awareness is both inescapable and stimulating. When reflecting upon this fact restlessness begins to build. It begins first at my feet, tapping away at the ground like a woodpecker on a tree. Then it sneaks up into my thigh, which begins to bounce up and down as if loaded with a spring. From there it overflows into my stomach, quickly reaching my chest and accelerating my heart into a fervent pace. This restlessness is like an itch that begs to be scratched, and it propels me out from behind the sink pit of my computer through the front door and into the world. It is because of this itch that I plan to live my life to the fullest extent. I plan to live where I see fit and travel to places I had previously only daydreamed of. I plan to educate myself on as many areas as I choose, and pursue a career that is both fulfilling and lifelong. I plan to love who I want and say what I wish. I plan to define myself in my own liking, and to be uninhibited in such pursuits is to be truly free. Individualism promotes many of the same concepts and has been a predominate school of thought in both the United States and the world. However, it is my belief that this modern concept of individualism is in fact a farce. In modern times it has been used to justify greed, genocide, war, and the depletion of our planet. But where did this “-ism” come from and how could such a seemingly positive idea be so wrong?

The idea of Individualism can be traced all the way back to the foundation and subsequent prominence of Christianity. With this, the beliefs of salvation and predestination became fundamental in the minds of the majority of the European world. Salvation, in its most basic definition, is the saving of the soul from sin and it’s consequences. Since there is no concept of a “group soul” in Christianity this can be seen as an undeniably personal belief. Throughout the 11th and 12th century this premise was intrinsically woven into the conscience of European peoples through the despair of the black plague and the “instant salvation” of the crusades. The second idea, predestination, is the belief that all events have been willed by God and are in turn his doing. Therefore, an individual could make whatever decisions they wish (bad or good) and deem them justifiable under the pretense that it was so because God willed it into being. These beliefs stayed in the minds of those who would bring the period of time known as The Enlightenment and create the term Individualism. One of the fundamental ideas of this period was that “I” can do anything based upon the principles of self of reliance and personal freedom. To the great minds of this time these freedoms were universal for all people and God given. For those who were in grave need and oppressed or inhibited by the powers that be, such as the founding fathers, the realization that individual freedom and capitalism would lead to the most idealistic society was an entirely new and exciting proposal. This idea of individual rights was used to restrain the government, and as the old regimes fell a new ideology was formed to legitimate the removal of power from these authorities. Economic, technological, and social processes played major roles in these developments, but individualism provided a major source of legitimation for these developments. As this great...
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