How Are We?

Lughnasa                                     Waning Harvest Moon

In preparation for my presentation, Spiritual Resources for Humanists, I have come across two mentions of a critique of Enlightenment thought’s emphasis on individualism.  In one instance the critique compares Western individualism with the more integrated person of Taoist thought, one with the Tao, or with the more communal sensibility of the East in general.  In another instance individualism lies at the root of contemporary nihilistic ideas.  Life’s a bitch, then you die.

These two critiques I know now only in their casual clothes, not in their full dress argument though I intend to hunt them down as I work.  My first instinct is to bristle, to lean into the obvious benefits of individualism:  creativity, activist politics, a chance to flourish as an individuals gifts and dreams suggest, personal liberty.  My second instinct is to note that even the most individualistic of philosophical stances cannot extricate a person from family, from socialization, from nation, from history.

Then, once my bristles lie back down and I quit pawing the earth, I move to a possibility that neither the more communal and integrated inflection nor the individually inflected position has it right, that the reality is more dynamic, at some times we Westerners are as communal and familial as the East while at other time the individuality of an Easterner comes to the fore, both depending on the particular situation, era, motivation.

This is all before I sit down to think about it.  At first I defend my intuitive position, then I ameliorate and finally I move to the dialectic.  All without benefit of much reflection or introspection.

That comes next.

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