society and the individual

Will code for food

All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.

- Albert Einstein

I love pop culture, as long as it is MY pop culture. I love Star Trek, Star Wars, the Matrix and the Lord of the Rings and don’t care much for American Idol.  Loving one and not caring for the other won’t make me much better or worse as a person; there is nothing in Star Trek that makes the fans of that show “better” than the fans of American Idol.  Yet I feel that there is some value from the one show not possible from the other.  I feel that liking one over the other makes me more of an individual.

There are many opportunities for the individual to disappear in a society. In a totalitarian society, the disappearance of individual is a survival instinct.  In a command economy, it’s the easiest action.  In a capitalist society, it’s not the way to wealth but it may serve as the avoidance of poverty.

If you stop and think about the ways in which you can live a “life fully lived”, either through commerce or service or self-improvement, the individual is key. I imagine Donald Trump gets the same sense of satisfaction through commerce as a community organizer does through service to others, although I can’t be sure.  But the opportunity for development accorded to the individual makes or breaks a society.

Do you want your neighbors to succeed? Your city?  Your state?  Your country?  Your world?  At each point you’re concentrating less on your own self-development and more on a larger ideal.  As a family man, I concentrate less on my own self-development (reading, contemplation, exercise, etc.) and more on my family’s development.  I think others expand this to concentrate more upon their neighbors’ development, and so on.  It’s not a bad thing, but I think every time you set aside your own self development for society’s, you eventually will suffer.

Boil it down to real life? Killing yourself to guarantee your children’s college education?  Paying exorbitant taxes to support a dying city?  Working to support a corporation?  Destroying your own health to support a family?  All are self-defeating in the long view.  Each will eventually undermine the initial reasoning; working long hours and wrecking your health to support your family will fail to pay off when you die young, for example.

Most people can’t make that difficult choice to concentrate on their own self-development. I’ll be honest:  I can’t. It’s hard to say that you need to work on your own happiness or health or prosperity now to ensure your family (or friends’, or community’s, or whatever) betterment tomorrow.  Sacrifice is tough in the short term.  America hasn’t demonstrated much stomach for that in the last decade or two, and we’ll pay the price in the next couple of decades.  But if you want to help others often the best way is to learn to help yourself first.

photo credit: pvera