thoughts on individuality and community

Humans can be guilty of pursuing ends to grotesque extremes.  A cursory study of history confirms this.  The mortification of the flesh by the ascetic is one such grotesque extreme.  Individuality, and a community (tribal, ethnic, racial, national, religious or ideological) centric or collective consciousness can also be pursued or pushed to harmful extremes.



We must all accept some restraints on our impulses and behavior within a community regardless of size so that we do not harm others or impair their rights.  Thus, the individual accepts limits on his/her behavior for the greater collective good of a harmoniously functioning society.

When the interests of the community, the collective group of humans (the “state” for the communists) are made paramount, of course, there will be a large reduction in individual freedoms, even a restriction of natural rights.  When the collective or group welfare is exalted far above the value placed on individual dignity/worth, there will be abuses of individuals.  We have seen the tyranny of the collective played out in various totalitarian regimes during the 20th century with much avoidable and preventable suffering and death.

The corollary here is that if individuals are allowed complete licentiousness, then other individuals will be harmed and the community, collectively, will also suffer.  Widespread hedonistic and morally relativistic/nihilistic individualism undermines and breaks down the bonds of family, the basic human social unit of society.

(We see this at times with atheists, this over emphasis on individuality and immediate ego gratification.  To us, this reflects a lack of spiritual maturity.  We are all dependent upon others to various degrees.  Sure, most of us earn our daily bread through our own efforts and sacrifices (we are willing to make self sacrifices, the lazy are not so willing).  Yet, we still depend on the efforts and works of the grocer, the baker, the butcher, etc. albeit we pay for their goods and services.)

As well, if various and diverse groups within a society are pitted against each other, everyone can suffer even if only from fear, anxiety and mistrust.  Just take a look at the intractable social problems in the US today to see this in action.  Constantly harping on differences among groups obscures the common concerns of all as stakeholders in the future of the society.

Of course, nowadays, in many Western societies, so-called multiculturalism is helping to fragment or tear the social fabric and lessen social cohesion among individuals and across groups (ethnic, racial, sexual lifestyle, religious).  But here, too, the individualistic versus the collective dynamic is still in play.  Groups or associations of individuals behave in the aggregate much like self-interested individual persons who fail to respect the greater collective good in their actions.

What is needed is a balanced view, an approach to living in society that values and respects both the individual and the community yet avoids the harmful and destructive extremes.  Yet, humans seem to have a difficult time of achieving this “happy medium” in societies.

copyright 2018 –


  1. That golden balance between individualism and collectivism is certainly something we increasingly need to achieve in such a time of growing polarisation of politics and ideology, and a newfound obsession with identity politics from all across the political spectrum.

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