The divide between individualism and communitarianism flashed to the surface last week during the presidential campaign. It came about after President Obama rather famously told a Virginia audience. ”If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped tocreate this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
This may sound like an esoteric question, but it really gets at the heart of the discussion now going on within the presidential campaign. Communitarianism or individualism? Where do you fall?
From the moment one is born to the moment life ends, a normal human being cannot survive without nurturing. He cannot birth himself or bury himself. There is always another human to be a part of the support system from birth to death.
We are indeed an individual strand in the web of the community. Whatever affects the web affect us (Chief Seattle), and vice versa. Global warming, mad cow disease and other issues are communitarian in nature, but driven by individuals in both directions.
Everyone’s psyche or conscience is a product of one’s environment, and our morality is a necessity of co-existence.
Strict individualism works well, as long as one is capable of taking care of one’s self. However, no individual is free from vulnerability of accidents, diseases, wars and old age. We are dependent on others to produce or consume.
Religions have contributed greatly towards building the communitarian life where the invincible (lol) and vulnerable both can live his or her life to the fullest extent possible.
Indeed morality is the insurance for the safety of individuals in a community.
Where do I fall?
There is a balance to be maintained in life. Justice is the core value and basis for the success of any given society, without which no society can maintain its social, moral and economic equilibrium.
One can get away with murder or taking advantage of others. But that creates an imbalance and rots the society with insecurity. It also puts the responsibility back on individuals to restore that elusive and dynamic balance.
Individualism and communitarianism can be best understood by looking at the extreme ideologies: responsible capitalism and communism. Individuals have the burning desire to excel and to do well, and capitalism becomes a catalyst for the prosperity of individuals that directly benefits the society, through incentives to the individuals, where as communism restricts growth through forced equality. As capitalists we need to think about our own safety in the long haul caused by inequalities.
If freedom and justice are the core values of a given society, we need not worry about communitarianism or individualism. Both complement each other.
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Please mark your calendar for Tuesday 9/11/2012, it's a big event in Dallas- details at www.UnitydayUSA.com
Mike Ghouse is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a professional speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, civic affairs, Islam, India, Israel, peace and justice. Mike is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News and regularly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. The blog www.TheGhousediary.comis