The Representative

India's Youth News Tank

Culture, Individualism And The Need To Build Vibrant Communities

6 min read

From headlines on newspapers to prime time news channels, reports regarding rising incidents of violence, keep shocking us day after day. The same atmosphere of hatred can be witnessed in the angry social media comments on the incidents happening around us. What can be the possible reason for the rise of hate and anger in our society? Why are incidents of social unrest and intolerance being reported around the world? Why are modern humans becoming prey to anxiety and depression? These are the questions that can be analysed from different paradigms. Diving deep into them from a socio-political perspective, leads us directly to the question of culture and community.

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Understanding Humans And Modern Culture

Human beings are not mechanical machines or robots that work according to fixed programs. Every human being is unique, and works dynamically, and according to ones own characteristics. Human life is built around the culture it resides in, and it grows in sync with the same. Human life develops around the community in which it works, and it is absolutely essential to strike a balance between work and pleasure.

Modern times have witnessed the rise of economic prosperity, and an upcoming middle class. On the flip side, the widening gap between the rich and poor too. It has also been the era where individualism has triumphed over all other ideas. But why are things going the wrong way? Why is there a rise of hatred in society? To understand this question, it is important to critique many fundamentals of liberal thought that have guided the policy making. A complete failure of liberal parties around the world, and the rise of right wing, too, can be understood in a way through this method.

Firstly, while analysing individualism, it is necessary to understand its multi-fold impact on a human being’s decision making. For example, in political decisions taken in an individualistic manner, the individual identity and personal thought takes center stage, in turn leaving issues of public concern in the back seat. The increased influence of identity such as religion, or the typical middle class questions regarding individual tax payments during an election, are a result of increased individualism. This is one of the primary reasons, which leads to major elections around the world being fought around cults and identity than macro issues such as economy or climate change.

The challenge in front of non-right wing parties is to make these issues political. Coming back to individualism, its second impact is in the form of ultra-consumerism. The markets have influenced human life and culture more than anything in the past 20 years. Consumerism is reshaping the world—with quality of life being equated with the brands one has to choose. The increased social pressure, in terms of brands, is causing severe problems for the lower middle class and lower class families, since most of the youngsters and kids get targeted by the companies. In short, individualism has changed human life more than anything in the past many years.

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Rising Anger and Broken Communities

When you look around, there’s so much anger among common people of all age groups today. Now in order to understand them, it is important to study it along with broken communities. Today, an average person has to work day and night to catch up with the rising prices, and life in itself. From medical care to education of kids, he/she lives under a constant pressure. With the high costs of medical care, the fear of diseases in itself is an open invitation for all kinds of mental stress.

The teenager today—whose life has been limited in most cases to a six-inch ‘smart phone’—suffers from a lack of human contact and physical activity. But the phone is not yet ‘smart’ enough to replace actual human contact. There have been studies which show that the increased social media activity can lead to depression. The disappearance of public places and gatherings have hurt the new generation more than anything. If the vacations for a ’90s or 2000s kid were about playing cricket with friends, today it is replaced by playing cricket with virtual friends on the ‘smart’ phone.

The blame is not at all on the kids, but rather, they are the victims of a modern day culture, and disappearing physical playgrounds for commercial purposes. A man angry with his own life and surroundings—coming back home—finds solace in hate speeches and extremism spread by certain elements for political gains. When some other community gets blamed for all the ills of our lives, we find solace with such ideologies. But in reality, the real devil laughs, as we blame, the wrong culprit. There are mentally and spiritually strong individuals who form exceptions from all these general rules, but they are a negligible minority.

When in the name of promoting business, labour laws were altered and job security was termed as an obstacle to business growth, the poor worker’s mental health suffered. Intolerance, extremism, rise of terrorism etc., are nothing but a manifestation of anger in our society. It is also a reflection of disappointment—in the current socio-political establishment. Communities are where the human soul finds its expression and belongingness. The very fact that today neighbours don’t know each other in many urban areas, reflects the breaking down of communities. This has lead to people trying to find a sense of belonging in a sect or group, which are mostly cults.

Building Vibrant Communities

Building vibrant communities has become the most essential work ahead for our generation. It has to start from the level of an individual to a point of bringing genuine alternative political change that represents the people. Political change doesn’t refer to mere elections or policy making, but also creating a holistic political framework.

Vibrant communities are important for the overall expression of the potential in a human being. Someone who is interested in art should have the opportunity to genuinely follow their passion. It is important to have public gatherings, public shows, festivals etc., which create a positive collective culture, rather than an individualistic culture of consumerism. In no way is this a negation of true human enterprise, but rather, it is a truthful rebellion against an overreach of the so-called free enterprises into the lives and culture of human beings. The products have to be the ones that support the growth and development of human beings, not the ones which control the same!

On a more practical political front, it is important to work around issues such as universal health coverage and other rights, thus providing the safety of life to every human being. The issue of climate change has to be linked to the daily life, and movements have to be built around them. A dynamic community can only be built, if the human being has the time to do so, therefore the movements around the long working hours, too, have to be strengthened. The ideology of the 21st century must be for realizing true human potential based on a positive culture, and for a sustainable tomorrow. Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest critique of western modernity, as it is centered around individualism.

Problems faced by modern human beings—such as parents not finding time to spend with their children or vice versa—are often blamed only on the individuals. Of course the individual has a role in his/her decisions, but the larger society and community, too, needs to be questioned. Let us break the chains of modern day slavery of consumerism and be the makers of our own destiny!

May true human enterprise prosper, but do not let them control your lives! Let us build vibrant communities around the idea of non-violence and fraternity. Humans shall march ahead through the working together of communities for a sustainable tomorrow in the collective spirit. Long live the true human spirit!

*Originally published on the author’s personal blog

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