Individuality vs Individualism: The key differences

When it comes to individuality and individualism, there are important things to note about the differences. There is a stark contrast between cherishing the ideal of individuality and adopting the cultural norm of individualism, and we must recognise that contrast and highlight it whenever we can.

Individuality is essential.

Exploring who you are, what makes you tick, what gives you energy and what takes it away.

Discovering the passions and skills and talents that only you, with your first-time-in-history genetic makeup and the unprecedented sequence of experiences that you’ve been through in whatever thousands of days you’ve been here on this earth, added to the skills you’ve learned and practised and honed and refined to become good at whatever list of things you are good at.

Doing the work to know what your individuality amounts to us vital to a life of energy, purpose and contribution. It’s essential to a life of fulfilment and happiness. Essential to a life well lived.

Individualism is different.

Individualism aims to break up your tribe.

Individualism aims to pit you against your friends, colleagues, acquaintances in a winner-take-nothing race to the bottom.

While individuality is amping up the things that are uniquely ours, individualism is the culture where we are separated from the whole and forced to see ourselves as separate, a culture that is readily apparent everywhere from Instagram profiles to salary negotiations to political and military history (The strategy of “Divide and Conquer” has been deployed successfully by everyone from Julius Caesar to Charles I of England in Ireland 400 years ago to the Nazis to Donald Trump…)

George Monbiot’s 2019 book, Out Of The Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age in Crisis, is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of the world and everything in it.

He writes a lot about the spectre of individualism as handed down by the economic culture for the past half-century.

For example:

Competition and individualism are the values at the heart of the twenty-first century’s secular religion. Everywhere we are encouraged to fight for wealth and social position like stray dogs over a dustbin: competition, we are told, brutal as it may be, will enhance our lives to a greater extent than any other instrument. This story is supported by a rich mythology of rugged individualism, and advanced through an inspiring lexicon of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. The word ‘people’ has been widely replaced in the media by ‘individuals’. The most cutting insult we can throw at someone is ‘loser’.

The consequence of this is:

… the loss of common purpose. Our tendency is to stop seeing ourselves as people striving together to overcome our common problems, and to view ourselves instead as people striving against each other to overcome our individual problems. Never mind that these problems are often much bigger than we are, and arise from structural forces that no person acting alone can tackle. As individualism is the religion of our times, it must be the solution to whatever crisis we face.

And so we are presented with one of the many paradoxes of life and living.

To survive and prosper in this world, we must take every care to explore and embrace our individuality, and we must take equal care in recognising and rebuffing the individualism that is everywhere.

Just like the crows I watched over the fields some weeks back, we are individual and separate and must see ourselves as such, but we must be part of a greater whole, and we must see that too.