ME-ISM: The cult of the Individual

18 Jan

by Dr Stewart Hase

Let me state from the beginning that I am not opposed to human rights. I’m a member of Amnesty. I will never complain or even raise an eyebrow to someone’s right to order a quarter strength, half almond and goat’s milk, three quarter decaf, latte in a compostable cup while half an office block of people are waiting in line. 

Apparently, around a hundred anti-maskers invaded Westfield Shopping Centre in Paramatta at the weekend (https://cutt.ly/PjY76hy). The report, complete with video and photos even shows placards stating that Coronavirus is a scam. Clearly, these people have been over stimulated by Craig Kelly’s Facebook page and need to spend more time in the real world. 

What I most want to ask these demonstrators is what would be the motive of any government, particularly ours that is obsessed with neoliberal principles. Point the finger at anarchists by all means but she’s only running a party of two and has completely lost all influence. If they want to blame someone then they should blame that big guy in the sky with a white beard that apparently has nothing else to do than take an interest in one, tiny species on a very tiny planet, in a minor galaxy among the billions of galaxies in what is an increasingly large universe (apologies to Monty Python). 

But I digress and don’t want to spend too much time and effort pouring cold vaccine on yet another conspiracy theory: cognitive bias almost certainly makes this a waste of time and effort.

Let me also admit to the fact that I hate baseball caps and refuse to wear them. This is not pique but a broader statement about wanting an Australian culture not an American one. My protest includes a dogged resistance to spelling colour correctly and travelled has two &*$#@@! LLs not one, so there. The placard at the demonstration in Parramatta, that read, ‘We will not be muzzled’ is a more important issue. 

The culture of the individual or what I want to call MEISM, is embedded in the US constitution. In simple terms this was an attempt to ensure that the new country would not be subject to the power of governments, as it had been as a colony under the British. Individual rights were given the nod over collectivism. I’m sure that the founding fathers did not foresee how this would eventually play out when America became the most powerful country in the world, neoliberalism would rule and Trump would come to represent an American ideology that places the needs of the individual before the needs of the community, where the common good has become an anachronism. And the powerful are given free reign to do and say what they want.

And we, Australia, are inheriting this philosophy, just like the baseball cap. The anti-maskers, the anti-vaxxers, and those who don’t get tested or isolate when they have cold symptoms or lie when they enter public places make this clear. People who think about themselves rather than the collective good, who don’t care about the 80-year old that is going to die because they don’t want to wear a mask. And it’s not just because the mask is uncomfortable-it’s ideological. As an ex nurse, I’d wear a mask for hours and it is easy to get used to it.

As a psychologist, I’m obviously familiar with the fact that self-interest is a major human motivator. But there is a self-interest in being a good community member too because the community will take care of us-there is a strength in numbers. I suspect that this worked really well when we lived in small tribes and everyone knew everyone else and it was difficult to be a rebel. It is evident in small communities. But I suspect we have lost this with large cities and increasing population.

The effectiveness of communities relies on people being compliant: to put the interests of the common above their own. It relies on co-operation. It relies on leadership from our politicians and for the common to speak up with our expectations.

Or are we to follow the American way?

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase

4 Responses to “ME-ISM: The cult of the Individual”

  1. Lee Gurney January 18, 2021 at 1:49 pm #

    Please watch” The Century of the self” free on you tube.. what derives it’s is self interest but rather than manage it… it’s exploited by others for their gain

    Like

  2. Lee Gurney January 18, 2021 at 1:50 pm #

    Please watch” The Century of the self” free on you tube.. what derives it’s is self interest but rather than manage it… it’s exploited by others for their financial power gain

    Like

  3. auntyuta January 19, 2021 at 9:33 am #

    Very good article!

    “. . . an American ideology that places the needs of the individual before the needs of the community, where the common good has become an anachronism. And the powerful are given free reign to do and say what they want.”

    Further on you say: “As a psychologist, I’m obviously familiar with the fact that self-interest is a major human motivator. But there is a self-interest in being a good community member too because the community will take care of us-there is a strength in numbers. . .”

    Maybe studying psychology should be made compulsary in schools?!

    I like to reblog this article!

    Like

  4. auntyuta January 19, 2021 at 9:36 am #

    Reblogged this on AuntyUta and commented:
    I was thinking that maybe a study of psychology would help in getting rid of that crass individualism!

    Like

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