Someone very close to me once alleged, “I
don’t exist as an individual,” implying that to truly exist, she
needed to be a part of something greater. Of course, a debate
ensued quickly after this provocative utterance was made – I having
several different philosophical objections to what I had just
heard, my companion fiercely defending her position with a slew of
plausible justifications (to her credit). The statement stuck with
me for a while. Initially, I was drawn to the metaphysical
implications of my friend’s claim, yet as I considered her words
more carefully, I began to grow slightly sad. That evening, my
friend’s admission struck me as one reflective of a certain lack of
reverence for the self.

Janna Hutz

A few days later, the conversation still fresh in my mind, my
lament was renewed with the realization that the sentiment my
friend had expressed to me was not all that exceptional; scores of
my peers subscribe to similar notions. So, I set out to determine
why. My relations with a spectral range of students brougsht me a
little closer to understanding of the problem. Things started to
become apparent as I recognized the point of correlation linking
most of my acquaintances – the insatiable desire to be associated
with some type of cause, whether it be patriotism or protest. My
deduction left me a little depressed.

I feel quite lonely as I witness the slow demise of personal
identity. It seems that our new generation of conflict has brought
about an unprecedented level of social polarization. On any given
day, I will see “movements” being organized; and on every given day
I see students, impressed by strength in numbers, scurry toward
these promises of personal definition. For reasons that I can’t
fully comprehend, people seek their identities amidst groups and
collectives. Why can’t the self suffice?

I am troubled by excessive allegiances; the forfeiture of one’s
individual �lan in favor of any form of “membership”
perplexes me. People should want to serve themselves once in a
while. But I hope that my egoism isn’t interpreted as selfishness.
I myself champion progressive, unprejudiced causes that work for
the well being of others. However, I also passionately condemn
blind participation in organized movements. It has become terribly
chic to be an activist these days and dissent’s the hot game in
this town. Disgustingly impressionable students make the ultimately
grave mistakes of hopping on whatever bandwagon drives by and
playing the game of contrariety without a clear grasp on the
“issues” they claim to support. They do so without foresight or the
fortitude to try and implement change on their own.

Most contemporary issues are much too complex to rigidly define
in terms of “right” and “wrong,” and the consequences of attempting
to do so are great – a rather obvious assertion, right? Yet no one
is catching on. I feel more than comfortable saying that I have
found the overwhelming majority of campus activists to be rather
ill-advised in their decisions to choose sides – the root cause of
militant partisanship on campus. And so every day, as I walk to
philosophy class, I am forced to observe a raucous congregation of
Diag demonstrators seething with misplaced idealism – “Students
Protesting for the Sake of Protesting” (SPSP).

Why doesn’t the individual matter? Why must I choose sides? I
choose to retain my personal identity. I don’t want to be a part of
your amorphous movement. I’d rather not hear about “divesting”
(what a ridiculous notion!) from State X. I’d rather celebrate my
own rich cultural heritage than wear your nationalistic
paraphernalia. And I’d rather not negotiate my way through your
childish State Street protests and counter-protests. There are no
problems with cooperation between individuals, yet movements, as I
see them at the University, are inherently exclusionary. There
isn’t any room for you at the table if you do not profess an
unwavering commitment to The Cause.

I don’t have to be a card-carrying member of any organization to
bring about social change, nor do I have to restrict myself to one
side of conflict. The harm done in doing so is immeasurable:
Intolerance is borne from schism. But let us temporarily detach
ourselves from the shortcomings of movements and states and such –
a salute to the individual is in order. Allow me to refer back to
my dear friend’s statement – why did she say what she did? Because,
like many socially conscious students on campus, she feels the need
to associate herself with a several causes in order to feel
participant in a “more important” scheme. But I think the people
who go at it solo have the most to offer.

I have always possessed a reductive view of the individual; I
believe that the very highest order of power may be found in the
individual – not in any assemblage of persons. The individual
should eschew the propaganda of collectives and reject their
labels. Personal identity, arguably the most vital aspect of human
existence is gradually nullified through obligation to movements.
Cultural identity and personal identity are not one in the same,
nor should they become so. Ancestry, religion, political
affiliation, national pride – all are legitimate components of
identity, but should never define the individual’s sense of self.
My friend – as you read this, I wish that you will think for
yourself, not the good of some cause or nation. The individual,
alone, can do anything, and the world needs more of them.

– Neal Pais can be reached at
“mailto:npais@umich.edu”>npais@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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