We Don’t Exist Without Each Other - Deepstash

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It Is Not Possible For A Person To Exist Alone

We cannot become “a self” in a social vacuum. We shape each other’s characters and expand or limit their opportunity for growth through social interaction in real time, all the time. Messages we receive from birth about who we are define what person we become. Neurons in our brains form intricate pathways as a consequence of our engagement with the social world and at a cellular level, our selves are shaped by the messages we receive about our place in the world.

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There Are No Atomized Individuals, Only Persons In Relation

If denied social stimulation, infants fail to develop physically and mentally. This is why children in care, or subject to an atmosphere devoid of love, find it hard to thrive in the world. If a young person’s social interactions instil a sense of being unwanted or unworthy of love it is not possible to conceive oneself as anything other than worthless. If we believe we have no inherent sense of self-worth we will behave in ways that sustain this belief. Behind every successful human being is at least one successful relationship; a touchstone around which a stable sense of self can develop. 

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“It’s Just Me, Myself And I, Solo Ride Until I Die”

Our society embraces a contradictory maxim: “we exist alone, in competition with each other”. Accordingly, the less we rely upon each other, the more free we are. The more “independent” we are, the more liberated we become. This is a myth so pervasively held that there’s little room to consider its absurdity. This conception promotes an idea that needing others is a pathology and not a fundamental human motivation as demonstrated in oodles of psychological research around belongingness.

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Groups And Groupies

Further, research demonstrates that developing a sense of social identity is what makes us human. Meaningful group life is essential to our health; without it our humanity is diminished. See evidence from the social identity paradigm of Alex Haslam and colleagues. In the most basic sense, groups make life worth living, and they are what we live for. As observed by Neil Ansell in his book, Deep Country: “we gain our sense of self from our interaction with other people; from the reflection of ourselves we see in the eyes of another.”

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The Heroic Individual

Contrary to popular contention, the individualism of today did not arise during the Enlightenment. The idea was embedded at the birth of modern civilisation. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, Homer’s epics, the Iliad and Odyssey, are the founding texts of western society. The cultures of Ancient Sparta and Athens were framed around the idea of the heroic individual, whose “great deeds” are attained through valour, virtue and conquering one’s competitors.

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Shaking The Pack To Rise To The Top

Throughout history, the veneration of heroic individuals and their “great deeds” has been an ever-present spectre and is observable in the espoused ideologies of 21st century leaders. According to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, society is underpinned by a process of “shaking the pack” to ensure the best individuals rise to the top. Johnson believes that FTSE 100 CEOs were born with high intelligence and destined for greatness; by implication a person growing up in a neglectful home fails at school because they, as an individual, aren’t very bright.

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The Pyramid Mindset

Our institutional cultures are shaped by these conceptions. The way governments, businesses and schools are “managed” provide stark evidence. In his book, The Power Of Giving Away Power, Michael Barzun shows how a “Pyramid” leadership mindset dominates our institutions and unconsciously shapes our thinking. This is characterised by dependence on a “great leader” who sits at the top of a hierarchy and whose goal is “extracting power from individuals for the purposes of simplification and single-mindedness”.

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Judge, Jury And Executioner

What is the impact of the Pyramid mindset that shapes our institutions? Those in power decide for themselves how to define great deeds and what determines how to measure them. This has horrific consequences as it sits beside another assumption; that the superior can conceive the inferior as tools instead of persons. It’s a story that began in pre-history and shaped the Hellenistic world, migrated across the Roman Empire, was re-hashed during the early Christian era, carried through the Reformation and the Enlightenment and into the industrial age. 

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Natural Slaves, Living Tools

The narrative has deep historical roots. Aristotle believed in “natural slavery” and thought it acceptable to treat social inferiors as “living tools”. St. Augustine preached a doctrine of “passive obedience” and the need for the superior to rule via God’s elected clergy. Kant pointed out the tendency for those wielding power to treat others as a “means” to achieve their own ends. In the 20th century, Fascist and Communist dogmatists reduced human beings to functions; to automatons in service of the great deeds of statesman who knew what was best for all humanity.

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Self-Ownership And Self-Commodification

Today, far from laying aside these pernicious ideas, we have repackaged them. What has emerged is an individualism expressed in fashionable consumption and a willingness to perceive ourselves as commodities; as products in a marketplace. It’s a modern religion most have bought into. 

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JOHN DONNE

No man is an island, entire of itself;  

every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.  

If a clod be washed away by the sea,  

Europe is the less,

as well as if a promontory were,  

as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were:  

any man's death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind,  

and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls;

it tolls for thee. 

JOHN DONNE

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