Individual vs community (3): the sociopath

The last two posts were about what happens when the community overtakes the individual. When the individual is lost in a collective, we have a crowd or a mob. So what is an individual without community? An introvert?

No. Introverts, while they may have few relationships, tend to value them highly. (I probably value my friendships more than most people, because I don’t have many.) A hermit, then?

No. Hermits are actually social beings even if they spend little or no time interacting with other people. Religious hermits tend to conceptualize their work of prayer or enlightenment as benefiting humanity or all beings.

What matters here is not the amount of time spent in a community with others, but the quality of interaction and whether the individual conceptualizes herself as part of the community. I suppose that the person who comes closest to an individual stripped of community must be a sociopath. Sociopaths are “antisocial.” (Which is different from asocial. Introverts are generally somewhat asocial but not antisocial.) Sociopathic traits include defiance of authority, disregard for social norms, lack of empathy, and lack of meaningful connection with others. Although sociopathy is listed in diagnostic manuals as a mental disorder, and appears to be caused by some combination of heredity and environmental factors, rather than political environment, I can’t think of any better parallel to the Mob than the Sociopath.

Now, if communism tends to privilege the collective at the cost of the individual, then presumably capitalism tends to privilege the individual at the cost of the collective. Right?

Well, not exactly. Capitalists like to think of themselves as individualists, just as the more extreme among them like to call themselves anarchists. In reality, they are interested in markets, not in people. They don’t care about creating an environment in which the talents, minds, or personalities of workers can develop fully, they just care about how much the workers can produce (not an individual worker, since he can be easily replaced, but workers added together and averaged). What could be less individualistic than giving corporations (not even a group of people, but a legal concept applied to a group of people) the same rights and status as an individual human being?

But then, it’s been convincingly argued that corporations, when personified, display sociopathic traits; and I’m not the only person to suspect that some CEOs of large corporations are successful sociopaths. So for these reasons, I am willing to cede capitalism the distinction of being individualistic. (That was a backhanded compliment.)

But socialist anarchism is, I think, the only political/economic philosophy that is truly interested in individuals. It’s not individualistic in the sense of capitalism or Ayn Rand’s objectivism, which reduces community to an aggregation of individuals pursuing their own self-interests, perhaps helping, perhaps hurting each other in the process. Rather, an individual is someone in relationship with other individuals.

Small children explore further from their parents when they are securely bonded to them, when they are confident the parent will still be there for them when they return. Children who are not secure in the parent-child relationship are too anxious and clingy, too preoccupied with the parent who at any moment may or may not be there for them, to do much independent exploration. Couldn’t this dynamic work on a larger scale? Perhaps if we were truly secure in our community, if we knew it would be there for us whatever happened, we would be freer to be creative and original, to take risks. Instead of the desperate, neurotic “independence” of American capitalism, in which one is expected to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps and never depend on one’s community for anything, (and if one must depend on it, it’s very uncertain whether the social safety net will be there at any given moment), we might find that acknowledged interdependence fostered a more secure and generous form of independent thought and action.

What do you think?


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