Collectivism & Individualism: Bridging the Gap

In reality, individualism and collectivism are simply two basic aspects of human nature. There is a very good biological reason for this seeming conflict.

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As social and political concepts, collectivism and individualism are frequently considered to be conflicting phenomena. Individualism is commonly viewed as being harmful to the interests of the majority of people in society and collectivist political organisation is therefore favoured, both to unify society and to protect the majority from exploitation.

In reality, individualism and collectivism are simply two basic aspects of human nature. There is a very good biological reason for this seeming conflict.

Although humans are social creatures, they have evolved and are born to be self-interested individuals. Biologically, we are programmed to take care of ourselves before all else. It is into our mouths that we put food every day, into our bank accounts that our earnings are deposited, and ourselves that we clothe. Even a mother’s care of her children is essentially self-directed. It is her children that she cares for. While she may well be fond of all children, it is only hers that she would be inclined to sacrifice herself for.

However, while we have evolved principally to be self-interested, we have also evolved to be social creatures. We need our fellow creatures, and particularly those close to us. Evolution has resolved the conflict between our inherent individual self-interest  and our collective social needs through the adaptation of morality. This is the collectively-generated standard of human behaviour, stretching back in time, and passing, like language, from generation to generation, that reconciles individual self-interest with society’s collective needs. Individualism and collectivism are not irreconcilable opposites. They are simply complementary aspects of humanity’s necessarily complicated nature.

Far from harming the interest of the collective, individualism frequently benefits it. Progress in the quality of human life is generally made on an individual rather than a collective basis, as is indicated by the history of human technological, scientific, and artistic development. Because of our emotional and moral bonds, humans are and will always be collective. But because of our self-interested biological nature, we will also always be highly individual. Both characteristics should be welcomed as contributing to our survival and our enjoyment of life.

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