The Denial of the Social Self

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Human existences centers around our social relationships. Humans by nature are social creatures that depend on a social structure for survival. However, humans are also conscious creatures, and can develop habits and mindsets that are counter to this structure. This leads to conflict such as war, violent crime, and taking advantage of others to feel power within a social hierarchy. There are also other human conditions that often stem from false belief systems of individualism and the self-made “man”. These belief systems often cause individual pain such as loneliness, depression, anxiety, and drives some individuals to want to end their own life. However, the conflict between our nature as social beings and our false belief in individualism and individual strife, is also a natural process. Individuals must feel they have an individual sense of purpose in order to make a meaningful contribution to the social structure that maintains human existence. The term often used for this is human motivation, but again it would not exist without the need for social integration and social purpose. 

So why then if this is a natural process, do I call individualism a “false” system? It is false in the sense that it strips away the importance of the social context and world we live in and places too much emphasis on the individual. False in the sense it exaggerates one aspect of the self and the cost to the other. It also creates a situation in which we become detached from our nature towards things that artificially compensate for our lack of social understanding. An example of this includes the need to make wealth as a primary focus of success. While gaining resources is vital to human survival, human survival does not rely on excessive wealth that overly advantages one person, over the other people who work to create that wealth. The interesting part of this discussion is that even this wealth gain has a social underpinning, as it is used to display the individual’s social power and hierarchy within the social system they exist in. The falsehood is, however, is that wealth is rarely because of the individual, it requires a social system to create wealth. For example, Elan Musk would not be a billionaire without the consumer who buys the products is company produces. Taking this further Musk does not build every one of the electric cars his company makes. No this requires many other individuals to build each car, and in order to provide Musk with the idea that he is the builder we dehumanize the efforts of the other individuals by simply calling them the laborer and workers. In this redefining of Musk, he is not self-made person as we would falsely assume under the philosophy of individualism. Rather he is an individual who took advantage of the social structures within the world and exploits that for his own wealth. 

Elon Musk is just on example, as we do not need to only look at the super wealthy to see our world is not made of just individuals but rather a social system. We can look at institutions such as the family system, governmental, and religious structures. Within in any of these systems individuals can exploit to take individual advantage of the system. This can range from domestic violence justification as the “man is the head of the household” to the pastor who has a million-dollar home justifying it as a “gift for his/her service to god”. These two examples both exploit social systems, by justifying the actions under the misguided philosophy of individualism. So why is individualism so powerful?

I stated at the beginning we have two natural systems that are aimed towards one goal human survival through social structures and systems. The first system is the need to belong, and the second system is the need to feel purposeful and meaningful. The second system is what creates motivation within the individual to become socially relevant. When we “feel” relevant we feel a sense of what is commonly referred to as “power”. In this context power is one’s feeling of being in control and untouchable. It is a protective feeling, because of the problems with individualism, we often feel threat from others instead of seeing others as benign. In order then to protect the self, individuals will often exploit the social system to protect their sense of self often called their ego. The problem with this notion is these threats grow from not understanding the social aspects of the human mind and need. Human conflict does not grow from our social world, rather it grows from a broken system of individualism and the need to protect that aspect of the self-system. Therefore, in the example of wealth, money is not the “root of all evil” it is rather a compensation for our lack of social belonging and denial of our social selves, which then creates the conditions for evil to happen.

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