That individuality in complex societies is not anti-group, but actually simultaneous coexistence of diverse groups, and that the diminishing diversity of groups leaves previously “individualistic individuals” in a dangerous position.
There is a narrative in wich the difference between East and West is that the later is individualistic and the former is collectivist. Curiously, the whole individualism thing does not explain much except in the West, in the sense that no one really thinks of the group to be collectivist, it is not really an issue, it’s just how things are, and this commonsense way of doing things gives weight to the social because the group is more long-lasting.
One hypothesis: That Individualism is not really opposed to Collectivism but in addition to, what Derrida would call suplementar. Furthermore, that it is a consequence of the complexification of society.
So, being part of a group is part of the human experience. We derive our sense of who we are from the groups we belong to. In complex societies this is still the case, but you are invited (or required) to partake in many groups at once. The practice of being member of more than one group at the same time makes one compare oneself as member of one group against oneself on member of other group. If you do this with many groups you end up having a group that compares with all the other groups and that has only you as a member.
One point is that this is still a kind of group. So the experience of having a group of one’s own is not really completely different from having a group. When we talk of an individual we are also talking about society or sociology.
Even when we try to imagine an individual by itself we analyse her through categories useful for groups. (Example/Exercise: Explain how both the “Noble Savage” and the “Violent, brutish and short-lived Savage” are not really biological entities but actually imagined fictitious non-European persons transplanted into Victorian Europe. Hint: “Noble” and “Brutish”.)
Therefore Individualism belongs to Collectivism, and can be said to oppose it only in a special sense of opposition; it is an containment hierarchy.
Another point is that there is a mechanism to individuality, instead of it being a fundamental concept. That is, a person cannot be an atom of the society, the basic cog of the big machine. There are other cogs, and Individuality would have very different effects if applied or used in different contexts — which is to say, it’s explanatory power to society as a phenomenon should be very small.
One of the ways this train of thought can go is that we try to reinterpret lots of sociology with a fresh eye towards the Individual/Group dichotomy. That would require a more serious treatment than a blog post can be.
But what sparked my curiosity is the question: What happens to an Individualistic individual when the complex society he lives in becomes less complex?
For example, the depletion of oil reserves points to a future where the world transitions back to a kind of Feudalism, with people generally bound up to subsistence relations. If this progresses fast enough to subject pluralistic persons to unplural societies, what would happen to this person? If Trump or the crazy politician du jour turns New York into old York, what does the average executive turn into?
Part of the answer mirrors my own experience of moving from a big city to a small one (say São Paulo to Goiânia). Whta happened to me was that i have unending love for the small town people, a deep desire to become one of them together with utter incapacity of doing so. I think of myself as a “Goiano wannabe” but i’m actually not. This is weird because i am seen as better than Goiano in some ways but the stuff i can do actually becomes less and less useful as time goes by. All big city stuff, that is supposed to be harder than small city stuff, and is, but in ways that actually make it harder for me to fit into the small town world.
Another possibility is that Individualized people just whither and die (or suicide) as everything they know and understand fades away. To avoid this, we should understand what is really happening as we go away from complexity. Because if we do, we can save the good parts of complexity to the future society.