Thursday, December 11, 2014

Individuality vs. The Greater Good

In present-day American society, the community is valued over the individual in almost every instance. People are encouraged to act “for the greater good”, and when they choose to act in self-interest, many are labeled selfish or traitorous. Many will say that present-day society is highly conducive to individual freedom, and it is true that modern Americans experience much higher levels of liberty and freedom of expression than they have in the past. However, we are still irrefutably influenced by not only those in power and the general American community as a whole, but also the many smaller communities each human is a part of throughout their lifetime.

Societal rules and guidelines prevent many people from expressing themselves with true creative freedom. For one thing, it is impossible to make art without being somewhat influenced by those who created art before you; being an artist is inevitably being part of the larger artist community. Also, since humans instinctively, often subconsciously, scrutinize everyone they interact with, it is impossible to be truly non-judgemental. Therefore, people fear expressing their true thoughts and feelings, since those true thoughts and feelings would often not be received positively.

American society is very fond of this idea of “the greater good”. It is what encourages young people to join the military, with countless advertisements and public service announcements about “defending one’s country” and “serving the greater good”. This drive to fulfil one’s duty to the community is seen everywhere in our culture: world leaders make speeches about the greater good, soldiers sacrifice their lives for it, superheroes devote themselves tirelessly to serving it. It is such a pervasive concept in America alone, and across the world, there are countries who value it even more highly - Japanese society, for example, places immense value on selflessness, to the point where even pouring one’s own drink is seen as unforgivably selfish and rude. Of course, there are more extreme cases, such as North Korea, where acting in self-interest or expressing individuality is punishable by death. To be fair, the “greater good” mentality is not essentially negative; it can spark great humanitarian work and help communities unite in the face of disaster. However, it can be extremely dangerous, especially when those in power use their influence over it as a tool of control.

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