Who are you? This is an interesting question, especially when objectively asked of the person in the mirror. Who are you? The question is pertinent today as we are oft times looked upon and associated with thoughts, motivations, and machinations not our own, simply because we “look” a certain way, or ask a certain question. Where our minds were once fixed on the individual as the agent of autonomy and sovereignty in society, we are often urged to think of ourselves as part of groups. Why is this? When did this shift from the individual to the group occur? Was there ever really a difference in outlook?
In truth there have always been groups. Humans are social creatures, tribal sometimes. From the earliest days when our primordial ancestors diverged from apes we retained the need for groups, tribes, bands, or clans. It is in our nature to gather together. Yet, with intellect and law came the recognition each of us has our own motivations and our own accountability. We are we, but “We” is not responsible, “I” is. The individual bears responsibility for the actions he or she takes. With law came the recognition that we are individuals who in the practice of our personal autonomy must respect the autonomy of others. We recognize we are not alike, but must in certain cases behave as though each of us is the same. From this relinquishing of a certain amount of our personal autonomy we get rights, human rights. The “freedoms” lauded in society: speech, assembly, and religion are both emboldening and restrictive. You can practice the right, but you may not deny it. Strange then that we are often inflicted with groupings which are not of our own making. These associations seek to strip us of our individuality and thereby our rights.
This denial of the individual happens when generalities are used to explain or ascribe behaviours or beliefs to a wide group of superficially similar people. Race groupings, nationalities, and religious groups are the most popular, but there are others as well. The sexes, the “rich”, the “poor”, the “old” or the “young” are likewise open to generalization. While generalizing is often benign. It is not always. All Englishmen love tea. While a fairly harmless generalization, it is likewise untrue. About 75% of English people, men and women, drink more than two to three cups day. This is certainly a lot of tea loving English, but is it not all, nor is it necessarily love. This is of course a frivolity. No one could really get offended with such a statement. Then, there are other times when group and group-think can become less frivolous and far less harmless. In fact, group-think and group associations have become prevalent of late. The assumptions of behaviour and guilt by association regularly finds its way into the media. Consider how many times of late you have heard one group or another being associated with some cruelty or bigotry. Consider the number of times historical events are fast-forwarded into the current day to be used as a bludgeon to shame a particular group. How often are false generalizations made on single factors to condemn groups of people who individually behave far differently than the assertion for the group. It is important to understand that there is no human “group,” or for that matter human, measurable on a single factor of their being. You are white so you are this. You are black so you are that. You are gay so you behave this way. You are male so you behave that way.
In certain circles, we are not individuals. We are conjoined with our like-kind. We must stay in our like-lane. Our individuality is unwelcomed in a world of group-think, as a person who is not an individual can be imbued with the false-guilt of many. The once-individual can be made to bear the sorrow and guilt of acts not his or her own, from any time now or in the past, thus the individual is disenfranchised. There is no “you” unless it exists as the target of a finger-pointed rejoinder of blame. You are at fault. You don’t care. You are a racist. You are wrong. The “you” is not the individual but the group to which you belong. Your membership is your shame.
You are white. You are black. You are male. You are female. While any number of these may well be true for any reader of this little missive, the fact of the matter is none of them, so identified, had any choice whatever in whether or not they were any one or more of these things. We don’t pick the geography of our birth, our birth parents, our sex, or the colour of our skin. These are random chance. Your membership in other groups may well be equally arbitrary. There is no small amount of opinion on the arbitrary and random nature of sexual preference. Certainly, one would say “politics” are choice. Leaning left or right based upon consideration of the policies and intent of one political stream or another is a choice. At least, one hopes consideration has been given. There are those who would suggest society and socialization has much to do with such choices. Economic standing to plays a part. There are certainly influences which create leanings in one direction or another. Grouping occurs, but underlying them all is individuality. Or, is this an illusion?
Are you an individual? Many would immediately say yes. Of course! Without a doubt! Yet, how often do we tolerate our inclusion in groups. How often are we asked to identify with a particular group. How often are we be judged by the group to which we arbitrarily belong as involuntary members? This “grouping” is a tool, used by those with political or social agendas to undermine the individual. Dealing with the individual is difficult. To contend with the group is easy. An individual’s experience often hard won. An individual has rights. Groups have neither. Groups have only the history which can be imposed upon them through superficial association, enhanced if removed from the context of history. Individuals have accountability for their actions and in certain cases for their words. You can say things about groups you cannot say about individuals. You can slander an entire group, but would be careless to do so against an individual, at least a litigious one.
Is the individual a fallacy? Are we living under the illusion we are independent entities? The law doesn’t think so. You get the traffic ticket. It isn’t evenly spread across all drivers. You get your tax bill, which is different from your neighbours’. You think. Likely, you think differently from your neighbour, your wife, your husband, your brother, your sister, and your friends. Not in all things, we agree on certain matters. This is the root of society, the agreement on certain norms and moral codes. So, it is clear that groups are occasionally not only justified and not arbitrary, but necessary. We need groups to exist to allow us to build nations, to agree laws, to address the matter of our collective administration and welfare as we have discovered that humans do prefer to gather together. Nations, cities, and towns all are amalgams of people, individuals who agree to live together under common law. So, what’s all the fuss over groups? Ask a Mets fan about the Yankees, or a Leafs fan about the Habs. Groups have characters, even if they don’t have accountability. Groups tend, though not always, to shun those not in the group. This is old thinking. You can see it in Chimpanzees. If one chimp group meets another, war starts. Not just shouting and flailing of arms. War, tear each other limb from limb war. While we diverged genetically about 8 million years ago, we come from the same roots. Some behaviours are very, very old. Some of it comes from ancestors who are now stone remnants, impressions of what they were, smaller, agile, instinct driven, tribal/family group oriented, and almost always prey. Groups are instinctive to humans. So, groups are natural. However, we have what our ancestors do not, intellect. Our intellect should drive us to the proper use of groups and recognition when groups are not healthy or morally suited to our needs as individuals. Groups and group association becomes unhealthy when groups act against individuality or individual recognition.
One objects, or should object, to being part or associated with a group when the group is being ascribed as behaving uniformly and consistently due to some perceived attribute of the group – positive or negative.
Individuals cannot be assessed by groupings in anyway but in generality; and when we are, only the most general and likely irrelevant characteristics can be determined from the groupings; any number of these characteristics can be contradicted by the individual member of that group. All women are nurturers. This is false. While it is true, women who are the only sex capable of giving birth are most often compelled by society and nature to take on the majority of nurturing, not “all” women are nurturers. Likewise, while on the main, men are larger and stronger than women, it is not always the case. These simple examples provide ample reason to be doubt the notion of “group” definitions as consistently true. If these simple examples stand to undermine the notion of uniform behaviour within the group, why would some shun the individual in favour of the group?
A preference to lean toward group descriptors is chosen by those who seek to divide. Individuality is unwanted in groups and by those who would endorse group-think. Group-think is offered up as a divisive philosophy. According to certain members our society, you impose your bias, social power, and economic weight by interacting with others. Even though you have no conscious intention to impose anything through your interaction, you still convey your bias. In fact, your intention or lack thereof, is immaterial. You have, due to your status as a certain “type” of Canadian, as the member of a particular group, a society-driven scent of superiority or privilege which makes others: at best, ill-at-ease and at the worst feel discriminated against. You do this as part of your nature. Microaggression is in your DNA. Your existence is a reminder of the system of injustice which they believe has been foisted upon them. It is not your fault per se, you were trained this way by society, an unjust society, in which you were elevated or demoted, and supported unconsciously into feeling, without justification, better or at least separate from those of other groups of people. You may believe yourself equal to some, but these will be members of your own group for the most part. This is the modern “social justice” view of original sin. This sin taints all and is applicable circumstantially to any group identified as being different or in possession of some perceived power by another group. Your privilege shows, apparently, to those enlightened enough to see it from their external vantage point. The external “they” become the arbiters of your behaviour, a behaviour which you must wear as a member of a group, different and at odds with theirs. If it is asserted your people are criminals. You are a criminal. Your people committed a genocide of our culture. You are genocidal. Your people enslaved those people. You are a slaver. The list of generalizations and associations to incite guilt are numerous, pervasive, and destined not to seek “reconciliation” or foster remembrance. They exist to divide. They exist to empower the accuser. These “groupings” and group-think are political tools to differentiate groups, to work against diversity by working against individualism. If you believe we are all individuals, each responsible for our own behaviour, each free to live as we choose under the agreed norms we have enacted as laws in our societies then you can believe in and support diversity. If you are a member of a group, you cannot because your group is not “their” group. “They” are not “us”. “We” are not “them.”
Diversity hinges and in fact has its foundation in individuality, not group-think, not the collective. It is supported by societies of individuals where recognition is given to the individual as an agent of personal responsibility. Individuals, who recognize their individual happiness, can only maintain their happiness through the cooperation of others and the recognition of the rights of other individuals to their own happiness. This does not mean agreement. This does not mean one has to adopt the behaviours or predilections of another. It merely means one recognizes the right of another to find their happiness in their own way, within the context of the common law. As a sovereign agent, having consented to support the laws of the land, to accept responsibility, no group affiliation can undermine the rights and power of the individual. To accept membership in a group and have that membership serve as a definition of the individuals within is a lie. It is tyranny. It is the very soul of injustice.