Toxic individualism

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by billvon, Nov 2, 2022.

  1. billvon Valued Senior Member

    I recently saw an essay complaining about Burning Man. This is nothing new; complaining about Burning Man is a full time job for a lot of people. It was better last year. X Y and Z has ruined it. The art sucks. Etc.

    But this particular essay was well written and was much larger in scope than just an art festival in the desert. The author talked about how the pandemic has changed us, and what we've lost as a result. And one of the central themes in his essay was the sort of toxic "rugged individualist" meme that the pandemic has only reinforced.

    We are all social animals. We need human contact to grow up, to develop our minds and morality, and to survive and prosper in the world. And we evolved to do this in person. We have actually evolved structures in our brains that have allowed us to confidently and accurately navigate the sort of societies we evolved in - groups of 20 to 500 people all living near each other. We read signals both verbal and non-verbal from people, and our own responses feed into this.

    We feel, exhibit and sense shame, for example. And if someone in your society does something stupid or dangerous, and they exhibit shame afterwards, you have an indication that they probably won't do it again. If they do NOT exhibit shame, then it might be a good idea to keep a careful eye on them, put them in a position where they can't do any damage or even eject them from the society. It is a way to keep a society in regulation, and we evolved this because societies without such a regulatory mechanism tended to fall apart more often when people could not determine who was likely going to work in the society's best interests.

    We feel homophily and are more comfortable with people who look, talk, act and smell like us. We exhibit this in what we wear, how we talk, what we buy and how we ornament ourselves. And when we see someone radically different - we become suspicious. We are cautious and fearful around them. And again, this came from a time when a stranger suddenly appearing in a tribe of people was usually a danger sign. Was he from a different tribe that wanted their food? Would they take over their territory? Societies that felt homophily and xenophobia simply survived better.

    As we developed our own moralities, this kept working for us, but it took effort. Homophily/xenophobia is at the very heart of most of the racism and bigotry we see out there, and we have to work to overcome it. Fortunately, for decades, we have been making that effort, and gradually things have gotten better. First at a personal level (i.e. we don't immediately attack or flee if we see someone of a different race) and eventually at a societal level (i.e. all races have similar rights today.)

    But then technology arrived. And all that mental circuitry we evolved over the centuries doesn't work when you can't see/hear/interact with people. You no longer see the cashier at the store, so you lose that connection to the larger community. You no longer talk to people face to face, and so that ability to see shame (and anger, and sorrow, and all those other emotions) went away.

    Larger cities also caused problems. Even if stores still had cashiers, they'd change all the time - and no one can get to know even 1% of the people who live in a city like Los Angeles or New York. That link to the larger community was impossible to maintain directly.

    And this played into one of the more toxic US memes, the "rugged individualist" who doesn't need anyone or anything, who rides off into the sunset on his trusty horse (or his truck) self sufficient and proud of it. Of course that's a myth from the get-go - he didn't build that truck or drill for oil or refine the gas for that truck. He got it from other people. And it's a myth at a larger level, too. We cannot exist as normal people without contact with anyone else, because we need that feedback at a very basic level. We evolved to use it.

    Then the pandemic hit. And now not only were other people obstacles that the rugged individualist had to avoid - now they could actually kill you. People avoided society for their own protection (and the protection of that society.) There was absolutely a good reason for this, and we need only to look to Italy to see what would have happened if we had not isolated to that degree. But it certainly didn't help with the growing barriers between people.

    And then the right wing lost power, and they needed some wedge issues to bring themselves back into power. So again they turned to fear of the other - they used that xenophobia to their advantage. They played up the fear of immigrants who were swarming our borders and were going to steal our jobs, take over our neighborhoods, attack our women and bring drugs and crime. Fear of criminals in big cities. Fear of government agents who were going to do all sorts of nefarious things like take your guns away or disable your car remotely. Fear of the "Deep State" whatever that is.

    And one of the side effects of all this was the sense that you needed a gun to protect yourself from all those "others." It didn't matter that that gun might hurt others, because they were rugged individualists who didn't need anyone else, and the greatest threat was from those "other" people anyway.

    Another result, of course, was the radicalization and extremism we see on the web right now. It became possible to convince people that liberals were pedophiles who wanted drag queens to take over teaching kids, because if all you see is your carefully-curated Facebook page, you don't see any of those cues that once convinced you you lived in a society. And that mental machinery that classifies people as "us" and "other" starts trying to run without any of its normal input, and so comes to preposterous and bizarre conclusions. (i.e. the Lizard People, the pizza basement child sex ring, "I have to kidnap Pence to save us.")

    And of course the not-quite-diametric opposite of rugged individualism - socialism - has become a pejorative for one political party nowadays. The same socialism that brought us national parks, our military, our roads, the Apollo program, nculear power, the Internet - has now become a curse word for people who identify with that sort of rugged individualism. The idea of a society coming together to support something like the Apollo program is now seen as some sort of vile perversion that takes away their independence and freedom.

    That attempt to divorce people from society, unfortunately, works politically - because the more isolated you make people, the more you can frighten them. This is the pattern that David DePape (Pelosi's attacker) followed. Starting out as a fairly normal guy, people who knew him watched him descend into a pit of "isolation and darkness, spending his time immersed in an online world of conspiracy theories and bigotry." His former employer said that "if you got him talking about politics, it was all over. Because he really believed in the whole MAGA, ‘Pizzagate,’ stolen election — you know, all of it, all the way down the line."
    And of course to the right this isn't a bug, it's a feature. Because if you can do that to people, they will vote the way that republicans want them to.

    So I don't see a good way out of this. Once a party realizes that fear and isolation works, and they think the benefit (power and money) is worth the cost (violence and degradation of American society) there is nothing to stop them from working towards just that.
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  3. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    I feel the same in that I don't see what set of circumstances would lead to a change in the current Republican Party. It is rather depressing. I can't forecast the future so I'm sure something will change eventually but I'm not particularly optimistic on that front.

    Some perspective is probably in order though. There has always been the outliers (KKK, Skinhead movement, John Birch Society, etc). Those tend to be the ones that are the most susceptible to these tactics.

    I look at how the current version of the Republican Party got this way so fast as being similar to how TV shows like Jerry Springer could grow so fast. Those people were always out there but there was no platform for them...until there was. Those shows aren't still out there (I don't think) and that segment has gone away.

    The Jerry Springer Show didn't create more of those people, it just provided a platform. I have to think most Republicans, even today's Republicans aren't going to listen to the rhetoric and then commit violence.

    It's still dangerous as the Jan. 6 event shows but that's not most Republicans I have to hope and think.

    Still, it's a problem and I don't know what the ultimate outcome or solution will be.

    I will point out, regarding some of your other comments, that some people are introverts and some are extroverts. Extroverts recharge their batteries in social groups and therefore place more emphasis on social groups within society. Introverts recharge their batteries alone or with just a few people and they would tend to not emphasize the role of the social group as much.

    This is irregardless of politics. Some tend to want to impose their viewpoint on others more than others do. I don't disagree with your comments about shame as it functions in society but it can be abused oftentimes by one group wanting to shame another group or individual.

    Most people aren't easily shamed and that's not just because they are psychopaths. Those constantly looking for others to feel shame probably aren't nearly so ready to feel shame themselves.

    Nevertheless, I agree with most of your points as I read them. IMO what is actually most troubling and lacking is compromise. If you took politicians out of it (they need money and are influenced by those giving it to them) and took two reasonable people, even with different views, they would comprise on most major issues facing our country today.

    I read a list not long ago about the "liberal" vs "conservative" position on each of the major issues we are currently facing. I completely agreed with many positions on the liberal side, some on the conservative side and for the rest, I could find good and bad parts of both sides of the rest of the positions. Were I negotiating with someone who felt differently but who also wanted to compromise, we could have done so easily I think.

    I'm sure that's the way it would be for most people who don't already have extreme views. Therefore as troubling as the current Republican situation is, the solution is really, IMO, more about reforming campaign finance, more accountability for members of Congress and by taking as much of the politics out of running the country as possible.

    None of that is easy either though...
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2022
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  5. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Agreed there. I think that there's a bell curve, and the outliers on either side are the ones likely to commit violence. The vast majority of people are on the "inside" of that line. But rhetoric like we are seeing today moves that line closer to the center.
    Absolutely. But even those introverts spend a lot of time in groups, whether it's in line at a store, or at work, or even just being outside in their neighborhood. Indeed, I think this contact is more critical for introverts since they have less contact to begin with, so it takes less to push them over that line.

    (This is not to say that introverts are more extremist to begin with, just that they have a little less of that social regulation that we all rely on.)
    Well, once that shame becomes anonymized, then yes - it's easy to weaponize it, and all those social cues don't work if the entity you are shaming is Elon Musk (or the Prime Minister, or the NRA) who you never see and likely never will.
    If they could meet in person - agreed. It's a lot easier with all those cues.
    Of those, I can see campaign finance reform as having some effect. Reduce the power of money and that sort of manipulation gets harder.
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  7. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Getting back to shame, even if it's just the individual my point remains the same. I could say (I don't feel this way obviously) that your post was shameful and that if you want to be part of our group here at Sciforums you should demonstrate some shame and apologize and promise never to post such a message again and I could add "and I'm not the only one that feels that way".

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    You still aren't going to feel shame or apologize. Is it because of "toxic individualism"?

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    No, of course not. Every group comment (my comment) isn't worthy of another member feeling shame.

    But, yes, the trend is disturbing and dangerous. Regarding the government and Apollo. It's a good point and a bad point all in one.

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    It was a positive thing for its time but today if you look at how effective SpaceX is vs NASA, I'm not sure it's such a good comparison. Sure, NASA is probably better for raw research and SpaceX for the actual implementation but you get my point.
  8. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Good example.

    Take two cases. Let's say we were all in a bar, and I went on a bit about my new pet theory about this toxic form of individualism, and at the end you said "you should be ashamed of yourself for that!" It's likely that everyone else would look at you and think "WTF?" And you'd look around and say something like "well, I mean it was definitely shameful. Come on! You all feel that way, too? Right?" And they'd just look at you. And you'd be able to read that they didn't agree with you.

    That would be direct and immediate feedback from the community, and would tend towards keeping the community together. The hypothetical you would realize that your opinion wasn't shared, and might lead to more tolerance of such monologues in the future.

    Now take the second case. You're on Facebook and you read the above and say "you should be ashamed of yourself, pushing socialism and communism down the THROATS of our defenseless kids!" That hypothetical you would sit back with a warm glow, thinking "I owned him." And you might even get two likes from people who see an attack on socialism and automatically like it. That feedback tells you that you were right, and your attack was justified and popular.

    One of those two leads to ever more pathologic behavior.
    I think it's still pretty good. NASA didn't build the Apollo rocket - it was North American, and Boeing, and Grumman, and IBM. If they do another lunar mission it will be SpaceX, Northrop-Grumman and Boeing. In both cases they funded and organized private companies. Same thing for manned launches. NASA didn't build the Atlas/Gemini rocket - they just contracted Lockeed-Martin to do it. And now they are contracting SpaceX to do it.

    It is way cheaper nowadays, due almost entirely to having 50 years of experience in rocketry, and in having massive advancements in metallurgy, computer technology and composites. But if we do another lunar mission it will be made possible by public money flowing through NASA.
  9. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Fair points. I do agree that mass media can be different and it certainly does lead to more acceptance of crazy ideas making them seem (to some) that they aren't so crazy. Yet, you still have to be "crazy" to be so affected.
    Otherwise me would be just as affected and wouldn't be able to point these flaws out.

    It's like when someone says "You wouldn't talk like that to my face, you are a cowardly keyboard warrior (or something similar)".

    It's both true and false. Speaking to someone online is less personal than doing it in their presence so it is less impolite if you say something that they don't like. It's not carte blanche to be a jerk however.

    It's a different medium with different "rules" so in most cases someone being accused of being "a coward", isn't being a coward even though they would have be more polite in person. That's simply as one would expect.

    On the other hand, as you point out, it's easy to forget the effect that you are having or to over-estimate the effect that you are having. Especially with "news" stories. You can chose to only watch biased sources and start to think that it's really mainstream news when it is far from that.

    I get your point about NASA and I think there is a lot of truth to what you said. I think there is also still some inefficiency. They don't seem to be getting to the Moon very quickly or efficiently with their latest attempts. I certainly would not be surprised if the rocket blew up on the launch pad.
  10. ThazzarBaal Registered Senior Member

    In a world at war and national civil unrest, between gender, sex, religious affiliation, and on to race and political stance, there's a threat to the Democratic process and some if not all, although needing a voice are silenced by????? Thought insertion and societal acceptance and of course dissatisfaction with this type or that type or potential that types that might threaten this type .. rugged individualist - self sufficient yet not so disconnected from society to claim complete independence but rather a self sufficient interdependence independently being self sufficient.

    Or follow the flow without any resistance and simply allow those who are already in position to make change make those changes without our input. We the people who are more diverse than fish in the ocean.
  11. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    These sentences are virtually unparsable. It might help comprehension to break your thoughts down to one sentence each.
  12. ThazzarBaal Registered Senior Member

    It's a wave of emotion that comes out. In that particular mode, I don't worry too much about sentence structure. The rant was real and felt deeply.

    Let's talk about the price of socialism, or the price of flock mentality without individualism and ability and/or preparedness to endure in more turbulent times.
  13. billvon Valued Senior Member

    That is actually a great example of what I was talking about earlier. No doubt in person people would have seen your emotion and been able to understand you better.

    However, this is a text based forum. If you can't express your thoughts in writing, they don't get communicated. Thus it is worthwhile to try to express your thoughts well.
  14. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    In a democracy, individualism can be a good thing, but it becomes toxic when we refuse to help one another, or work to support the best interests of society, as a whole. But, it seems like even asking for help, can be seen as weakness, and it perpetuates this ongoing narrative that I must go it alone.

    It's not weak to look out for others. It's not weak to ask for help, if you need it. It's not weak to want the best for your community, even if that means that sometimes, you won't get your individual needs met. We're stronger together (in general), than as individuals.
  15. ThazzarBaal Registered Senior Member

    I naturally agree, albeit grudgingly so. It's pride I guess, the reality check and the you're right but I don't like it truth. Worthwhile, yes and expected, as well as a should be expected self demand. I'm an individualist who has been ridiculed for a rugged presentation due to being forced into a position that demands me to be more rugged than not.

    Flock mentality and the dangers of just going with the flow of social change has never been my strong suit. Resistant to authority, self willed, stubborn, and opinionated I may be, but not without reason. I care. I care about people. I care about myself. I care about this nation and I care about it's future, so ... Being that individualistic rugged type on the hot seat of ridicule and scrutiny had my emotions higher than normal. I'm a sensitive man, admittedly who respects individualism as well as those whom have experienced enough hardship to truthfully earn that rugged stereotype that seems to be under scrutiny in this thread.
  16. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Well, no. You were criticized for an incomprehensible presentation.

    So am I. But I can present my opinions in a more comprehensible manner, and so have better luck on forums like these. It is a worthwhile skill to learn.
  17. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    But was it a rugged incomprehensible presentation? If you had to guess, who is more rugged, you or ThazzarBaal?
  18. ThazzarBaal Registered Senior Member

    You may well try to understand the emotion present in my original post. I've been ridiculed for being an individualistic rugged type. This has no bearing on what happened on this thread, aside from having sensitivities about it, which is why my original post came off as it did. With that stated, and in agreement with your suggestion of better articulation, I might add that I find it helpful in discourse to stay on point and follow the lines of the discourse itself. After agreeing once already, I question whether it necessary to give the same advice again, particularly after I made it known that I found it somewhat difficult to take. Unless, this is moreso about being contrary and pushing sensitivity buttons, I'd prefer the conversation be amicable in context of. If it's about being contrary for sake of being contrary and pushing sensitivity buttons, I'll play along , but don't expect the demeanor I've thus far displayed.
  19. ThazzarBaal Registered Senior Member

    I'll add at least this much in articulation, namely that the ridicule has been an ongoing thing for the better part of this forced situation I've been in for about 5 years now. The ridicule of individualistic people who lean to the side of a more rugged persona by those who are less than has become a sore spot in my psyche. I'll attempt to keep my sensitivities in check for reason of better articulation moving forward. I bring this up just in case you thought it might be a good idea to further advise as much.
  20. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    I'm noticing some telling patterns in Thazzarbaal posts:

    This is not the first time T has been accused of being incomprehensible, and this is not the first time T has tried to handwave it away by claiming emotional sensitivity.

    A quick site search for 'emotion' in posts by Thazzarbaal is revealing.

    Wow! What a lucky coincidence you found this particular thread then!

    T has a tendency to humanize itself by parroting things others have said - such as describing itself in a similar fashion to how other people have recently described themselves.
    wegs likes this.
  21. ThazzarBaal Registered Senior Member

    Is the goal dehumanization of humanity or are you accusing T whoever T might be as being less than? If this is the case, what exactly do I have to do with it, and how is T relevant? Intelligence, interest, ability to comprehend a thought, and personal realities associated with the conversation itself are factors in my personal participation. T, on the other hand, whoever T might be, I cannot speak for. What I can do is speak for myself, which is what I've done and will continue to do.
  22. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 72 years oldl Valued Senior Member

    Lumberjack time

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  23. ThazzarBaal Registered Senior Member

    Well, not exactly my type of rugged individualist persona, but ... I vaguely remember never wanting to be one. Not because of this clip, which I vaguely remember also, but due to it never being something I desired.

    No, my type is more to the tune of destitute and homeless, forced insecurity, lack of opportunity, and loneliness, which I would have not chosen for myself either. It's just that I've been forced into this type of position.

    The ridicule that has followed has been a bit more than the typical personal insult, based on things like height or weight. The extended type, the type I found to be offensive to me is based on my personal acceptance of a need to be individualistic and rugged because of the situational reality itself. The homeless and destitute reality where help, resources, representation, and friends are often lacking, hence the individualistic and rugged persona manifestation that came as a result of.

    Funny clip though.

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