Individualism and Democracy
Individualism and Democracy Why do we inherently choose to address our differences by either ignoring them or fighting about them? From a young age we are taught to conform to what is normal and reject what is not. In elementary school we learn from our friends to shun and bully kids who are different. We pick on the boy who is short and does not play any sports. We won’t play on the playground with the girl who always dresses in old fashioned clothes. We mock the child who talks with a lisp. And if we do not listen to popular music and wear the latest fashion, we will be shunned and bullied, too.
Society as a whole chooses to isolate and discriminate against people who are different, people who are individuals. Society also forces people to conform to what is popular among the majority, and when someone goes against what is popular, they become the source of discrimination. The American government was built on the basis of a democracy and values social equality, freedom of speech and press, and the right to the pursuit of happiness. But todays society has a hard time accepting people who are different. We deny the gay man the right to his pursuit of happiness because he is different than the rest of society.
We shun the activist who speaks out against the popular opinion in the media and press because their views don’t match with our own. We discriminate against people of other races and those with disabilities because they do not look like us. Instead of trying to understand our differences and use them for good, we chose to fight them. This problem is caused, in part, by the relationship between individualism and democracy. Individualism and democracy have a complex, intertwined relationship. Essentially, democracy allows individuals to exists, but punishes them for being individuals.
The values of freedom and equality breed individualism, so individualism would not be possible without a democracy. But at the same time, the power of the majority, also a key component of democracy creates a culture of oppression, discrimination, and isolation for the many individuals whose views differ from the majority opinion. So in order to remain an individual in the society, the individual must learn to cope with the oppression. Individuals respond to and cope with the oppression of the majority in many different ways and with varying degrees of success.
The first aspect of the elationship between individualism and democracy is the fact that individualism is dependent on democracy. As Crevecoeur states in his book Letters from an American Farmer, “We are nothing but what we derive from, the government we obey, the system of religion we profess, and the nature of our employment” (Crevecoeur, Chapter 3). America was built on the ideals of freedom and equality. The first Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, press, and expression. As Crevecoeur writes, “Here man is free as he ought to be” (Chapter 3). The constitution also guarantees equality to all men.
All men have equal rights in the law and equal opportunity in education and employment. Because the democratic form of government values freedom and equality, these ideals translate into the personal lives of the citizens. In an environment of freedom and equality for all, the individual is allowed to flourish. Freedom and equality breeds individualism. Freedom of truly are without being arrested or prosecuted for their views. Freedom and equality are both ideas that seems so basic and simple to Americans, but many other countries and forms of government do not allow this kind of freedom, and thus they o not allow individuality.
Individualism is dependent on democracy. In a dictatorship the absolute ruler often takes away the freedom of his people so that they will submit to him. In both communism and socialism individuals give up their rights in the hopes of creating a better collective society. Many people are not allowed to express and act upon what they feel is right. An example of this lack of individualism outside the democracy lies in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In the film, Nurse Ratched is like a dictator to the men in her ward ofa mental institution.
She controls nearly every aspect of their lives from their daily schedules, to their medicines, to telling them how to think and act. This causes a lack of individualism among the men who are completely suppressed by Nurse Ratched. The men are like robots, doing the same thing every day and never doing or saying what they actually wanted. When a strong minded man named McMurphy comes to the ward, he is not immediately affected by Nurse Ratched’s oppression and he teaches the other men to express their individualism. He shows them how to have fun and be themselves again, but he is severely punished for his actions.
When Nurse Ratched realizes the influence McMurphy has over the other men in the ward, she has him lobotomized. This situation in the mental institution mirrors the way individuals are treated outside the democracy. People who go against their government are often killed, tortured, or Jailed Just for having a different opinion or way of living. Individualism and self expression can only exist in the right climate, and that climate is often a democracy. The second aspect in the relationship between individualism and democracy is the oppressive actions of the majority over he individual.