As I mentioned in an earlier post, I feel that the extreme individualism that permeates western society is holding us back from accomplishing anything of significance – Either major positive social change or major social projects that we, as a society, will benefit from in the long term. One thing I’ve discussed is how the internet has decreased our capacity to integrate into large, diverse social groups. It’s not that we don’t have more little tightly knit cliques, it’s that we have so many fewer broad organizations that we feel a part of. We insist on “being ourselves” and only spending time in echo chambers rather than actually trying to build up a society.
As an example, say you are part of a clique. Let’s say you are a goth. You dress in black, like Victorian clothes, enjoy reading Edgar Allan Poe, and in general are quite dark in demeanor and attitude. You have an incredibly tight circle of friends. Who, in general, don’t disagree much on anything of real significance. Effectively, you are all very tightly knit and for tasks that your entire group has the capacity to do, you can accomplish them easily.
However, if you need to find a job, they aren’t going to be of much use. If they knew of a job that was available, you’d likely already know about it and be applying. However, if they don’t know of a job for you, well, then you are stuck to shotgunning it and cold calls. That is, unless you have an entirely different type of network available to you.
In fact, this was discussed in a study from 1996 by Andreas Flache, Michael W. Macy, referenced by The Power of Habit. In this study, it was shown that having only strong networks is really, really bad. Weak networks were far more useful for this task. We learn about new job opportunities from “weak-tie” acquaintances. People we haven’t talked to in month, but know us enough to be willing to provide a recommendation, or to at least listen to what we have to say. These are people we don’t match up with exactly, but people that we still associate with. People we have good manners with and we respect our differences. People who we adjust to relate to and understand.
People who we deny our extreme individualism to meet and understand and build relationships with.
Similarly, if the clique wanted to do something to change the world in some major way, and they all agreed, but had no social ties beyond the clique (or very few), they aren’t going to get anywhere. They can accomplish items that only their small group is capable of, and won’t have access to more resources (skills, capital, etc.) that a larger, less unified group would have.
Note, there are still societies that help with this, but they seem to be small, dying, or becoming so open that they end up existing of cliques that pretend to be under a common banner.
You need to find a society where there are actual rules, manners and structures, it needs to actually require some effort to join, and it needs to be open enough that if people are willing to deny their individualism for a short period of time they are able to join.
Historically, religious societies like the Knights of Columbus are really amazing at this. Generally, you are already religious before you join, so you have a familiarity with the general rules and etiquette expected. When you join, you learn the rest of the rules and social norms which are expected from you. You are taught to respect the group as a whole, while also contributing meaningfully to it.
You learn from the elders of the community, you teach your knowledge to others, and you work with everyone towards common goals. Yes, you may not agree on every aspect of what every person in the group believes, and you may not be the most dogmatic individual. However, by having a common tie that is strongly ethical and moral you overcome your differences, your fears, and work towards a common good. You learn good etiquette and you build something bigger than just yourself.
In the end, you accomplish greater and more lasting change than you could ever achieve alone or in a small isolated clique.
I am specifically referring religious (or ethics/morality based) societies, and not the school newspaper or similar. However, any group that matches the above is better than no group, completely open group, or highly isolated clique.
Doug McAdam studied the “Freedom Project” of the 60s to go down into the south and register black voters. For those unaware, this was an incredibly dangerous proposition during segregation. It was very likely that by participating you would be imprisoned, gain a criminal record, and likely have your life threatened by those who disagreed with the civil rights movement. Even so, many people applied and, if I have my numbers right, about a thousand people were accepted, of that thousand only 700 actually went.
Doug McAdam studied the differences the actual people who went versus the people who didn’t go after being accepted.
The greatest indicator of whether a person would go was whether or not they were part of an organization at their university. However, when the society was a religious society, the numbers went up even more. If the individual was simply very religious, but not part of any religious society, there was no difference. Being religious didn’t imply dedication to a larger cause.
However, every person who expressed a religious orientation and belonged to a religious organization went.
Why? I believe this is true is because a religious faith structure allows you to overcome the inherent fears, because you are doing what is right and not simply the safe route. Yet, this power is very easily overcome when you don’t have any support structure. You don’t have a peer group that can help you out.
The other part is that being part of a society with weak-ties encourages you to follow through on your promises. You are contributing to the group you are part of, but even more, you want to follow through on the values that you have agreed to. It’s easy to have an independent religion that perfectly accepts all of your views, but that doesn’t make any difference if you cannot build anything on it.
I think we need to be willing to give up some of our individuality again to build for the future.
One way to do it is to not encourage random religion, nor to encourage dogmatism, but to encourage group societies based around common ethics and morality, and to build and grow these societies.
We can start anew by creating random religions like they did during the French Revolution, or we can use the tools and churches that are right there and have been for millennia. Personally, while I agree things need to evolve, throwing out the baby with the bathwater never helped anyone.
This is just one piece of the puzzle, and it will be done one individual at a time. However, We can tear down this destructive individualism and start to build again for the future.