There seems to be a lot of confusion about what individuality and collectivism mean. The most common understanding of the two is that individuality is people being all for themselves, and collectivism is people being together and working together. This is not what it means to me. When I speak of individuality and collectivism I mean something very different. The common description of individuality and collectivism are not good ones. They make individualism seem evil and collectivism be good. I have a different way of looking at these two, which makes individualism as a goal to pursue and collectivism something to leave.
There are those who advocate people to live entirely for themselves and for no one else. This is known as egoism. Ayn Rand is highly associated with this movement. She argued that this is the only moral system that there is. This is summarized in her famous quotation, "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." As I have said many times before, I am not an egoist. I do believe it is the responsibility of all people to help others if they are able to. But I am not really an altruist. I call what I believe in as "charitable capitalism", and I wrote more about it here. So when I speak of individuality I do not mean egoism.
What then is the meaning of individualism? Individualism is living your life by your own standards, and only your standards, without concern for anyone else. This does not mean you ignore the concerns of other people. This does not mean you are hateful to others. This does not mean you do not associate with others. This does not mean a society where everyone only pursues what he wishes.
Individualism is living your life in absence of all social norms and standards that damaged the great potential of mankind. It is a fashion norm not to wear socks and flip-flops. If you are a true individualist then you do not care about this norm. You ignore it. You wear what you want. If your own fashion style is not to wear socks and flip-flops then this is acceptable in individualism. If you own fashion style is to wear socks and flip-flops then go ahead and do it. But if your own fashion style is to wear socks and flip-flops but you do not do so because it is social norm not to then you are no individualist. You are not living your life by your own standards. You are living your life under the standards of the masses.
If you adore American 1776 fashion that people such as George Washington wore and you manage to actually find a clothing store that sells this fashion style, then go ahead, wear it! If you want to ride on a horse, instead of a car, because it is compatible with your fashion sense then be individualistic. Ride it. But do not break yourself to the wills of the masses, do not say to thyself, that you shall be an outcast. Ignore all of it. Live your life as you want it. Not what others think of you.
Individuality does not only end with fashion and style. That is just the simple beginning. It gets more difficult. Individuality must also be present in your thought. Have ideas and have beliefs that defy the masses. Do not do so for the sake of the rebellion. If you actually agree with the masses, then so be it. But if you were to find a disagreement, and find it you shall, then rebel about it. Do not let your thoughts die out. Do not be afraid of being wrong. Do not be afraid to state what you believe and be criticized for it. Just be honest in what you believe. Thus, if you believe there is nothing wrong with pedophilia, then say so. Say it loud, say it proudly. Because such a statement is a shock to all moral standards that the masses hold dear. Scare them with your ideas. If you believe in a violent revolution against any state that suppresses freedom of religion to the point of picking up your guns and calling for the death of the tyrants, then proudly stand by that, soak that tree of liberty with your own blood and with the blood of the despots.
This is the meaning of individuality. This is what will advance the human species. Every major change in human history has been the result of individuality. Every major idea, whether it was virtuous or vile, whether it was correct or false, whether it was atheistic or religious, has been a rebellion against the standard value. There hath never been a change in history that was in accordance with the norm. How can it? The norm, by its definition, is what people have always been doing. To change the norm requires defiance and bravery, whether for the better or for the worse. Individuality is what has changed this species. This is why individuality is what will break from the individual his true potential.
Then what is collectivism? Collectivism is the opposite of individualism. Collectivism are people who unify and live under a uniform standard. Collectivists live without dissent. Collectivists are boring people, uninteresting, who never achieved anything in their life, and shall never achieve anything in their lives.
It is sad, but true, that evolution hath cursed our species with collectivism. The collective is the natural state of all things. Because for people to increase their reproductive success they need to fit into the collective. They cannot be rebels and outcasts. If they have strange fashion style they will be ignored by their tribe. If they have heretical thoughts they will be expelled or killed by their tribe. It is indeed sad that collectivism is the curse of mankind. Most people are collectivists. And perhaps it shall sadly remain so always. But this can be cured by individualistic pursuits.
Religion is collectivism. Religion has no dissent within it. It has standards and rules that need to apply to all others. Dress codes that apply to all others. And their members cannot have heretical thoughts. It is not only because religion is irrational and vile that it is so damaging to the world. But it is also because it is the biggest form of all collectivism.
Nationalism is collectivism. This is why I cannot understand people who are proud to be Americans. Or (secular) Jews who have a nationalistic feeling to Israel. Statism is, though not always, collectivism. Statists propose a society which is fashioned in their view and controlled to stay in such a manner. They do not favor dissent. They fear it, and silence it, if it becomes out of hand.
But individualism comes at a price. The individual must prepare his life for loneliness and fear. Many great individual thinkers through out history have been extremely lonely, and rejected from other people, sometimes even threatened. Friedrich Nietzsche said, "The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."
I remember a friend of mine telling me two years ago that if I do not wish to be lonely, and if I wish to be with someone, then I have to work on being normal. I told him that I had no interest in changing my ways, not to mention that I seem to have a rebellious gene in me that draws me to opposition and individuality. I told him that I do not think I am capable of doing that.
I am unhappy with my response to him. I should have not said that. I should have been more hardcore. From this point on, if anyone every tells me to try to fit in, I shall tell them, that if the price of individuality is loneliness, misery, fear, and living alone, then so be it, I will rather die alone, and cold, than live happily with others but without my own will. I refuse to be slave to the rule of the norm, I can be my own master, we can all be our own masters.