Home / Culture and Society / Society and the Individual, Part Four: Leaders v. Followers

Society and the Individual, Part Four: Leaders v. Followers

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

It is bound to happen eventually. An individualist living in the land of individualism is routinely going about his or her business when he or she runs into a horde of collectivists.

The career women, as they were often called, of the early-to-mid twentieth century so frequently found themselves in this precarious situation. Spurned by traditionalists for refusing to settle down after high school and promptly produce babies, they had only each other to rely on. This resulted in, to a large extent, second-wave feminism, a movement which extended from the early 1960s through the late 1990s. It completely blew the top off of what a women’s place was perceived as being, and resulted in many females delaying marriage or motherhood, if not bypassing them altogether. Rather than busying themselves with oppressive husbands or baby formulas, women earned graduate degrees and went on to hold powerful positions in the private and public sectors.

While I find that personal economic stature tends to be the best indicator of individuality, a plethora of other factors can act as good determinants too. Ethnocultural standards, especially when unassimilated with America’s quintessentially diverse macro-culture, have already been mentioned as one of these. Geography, however, might play an even larger role.

As those who lead their own lives and those who allow their lives to be led for them have vastly different worldviews, it comes as a given that members of each category move in different circles. It is in urban or suburban areas that more individualistic circles are found, as these regions offer cognitive-based employment opportunities. In rural or isolated areas, meanwhile, collectivist circles are prevalent as these regions mainly have muscle-based jobs.

Why are individualists attracted to cognitive professions, such as teaching, engineering, computer programming, journalism, artistry, banking, or something in the medical profession? Because these all require advanced thinking skills, and chances are that if one is a deep thinker, he or she has a profound sense of self. It is next to impossible to be a good painter, investor, or lecturer and feel no personal value.

Likewise, why are collectivists usually, to summarize it in a phrase, the renters as opposed to the landlords? Because, considering that collectivism and generational poverty go hand in hand, this is a default setting. Since collectivists let their contemporaries define them, they have low self-esteem. With such a crucial deficit, the will to aspire for a better life has no basis, and is thus nonexistent.

Looking at American history, individualists and collectivists only clash when a major social shift is in the works. As said shift impacts everybody, then all of the people that had previously passed each other by on the sidewalk, or in traffic, begin to notice one another. While the circles that we all move in do not overlap, they bump against one another, and this creates conflict. The gap, both figuratively and literally, between individualists and collectivists has never been bridged at any time, nor shall it ever be. If it were, then earth’s entire population would be one or the other.

Accepting this reality does not mean that we all cannot make earnest attempts to get along. Respecting and trying to understand one another’s opinions would be a great start, but far too many on both sides of the gap neglect to do this. Such a flaw is an outgrowth of what I call the Plato Syndrome; defending an opinion relentlessly instead of evaluating it rationally and searching for a more beneficial outcome. It is one of the most crucial problems that humanity has ever faced, and persists in spite of the facts on almost every occasion.

With this being said, can the future of America’s distinct individual-societal relationship be predicted? I will have a few closing words on this.

Powered by

About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Joseph –

    A few comments:

    1 – I’m loath to pigeonhole people as ‘individualist’ or ‘collectivist’, for within every group of 10 blue-collar workers, you’re going to find 10 that have dreams of their own: three or four who want to run their own businesses, one who wants to write a book, one who participate in the local community theater, one who volunteers doing this or that…yes, you know what I mean.

    2 – The boundaries between those who could be termed ‘individualist’ and ‘collectivist’ would be nebulous at best. For instance, teaching and especially engineering both depend much more on teamwork than on one individual’s drive or ability. This is not to deny the role of the mercurial individual, but to affirm the paramount importance of the team.

    3 – The most important single factor in one’s success is not ‘individualism’ or ‘collectivism’…but education, as the list of successful ‘individualist’ careers you gave shows. But there’s another factor, too – community support, or at least a lack of community resistance to the success of people not wholly accepted by the community. That last, of course, refers to every -ism in the book. If this last were not taken into account, then what would be said of the lower level of achievement of non-Asians and non-whites? And yes, often the community resistance to success comes from within one’s own ethnicity.

    So again, I’m loath to pigeonhole people as ‘individualist’ or ‘collectivist’, for economic success is hardly a good indicator. For instance, before she got really lucky and was discovered by an editor who took an interest in her, what was J.K. Rowling? She would have been – by your definition – a collectivist. So would Susan Boyle. And Vincent Van Gogh. And Mozart, for that matter, since he died penniless. Sure, most people really like economic success, but there’s many out there – particularly artists – for whom economic success is secondary to personal fulfillment, to doing what one’s gifts demand that one do.

    Like that loneliest of all professions – writing.

  • Igor

    This article surprised me with it’s poor presentation and argumentation. Almost immediately one is struck with this howler: “Why are individualists attracted to cognitive professions, such as teaching, engineering, computer programming, journalism, artistry, banking, or something in the medical profession?”

    First of all, the dichotomy between ‘individualists’ and ‘collectivists’ isn’t established, indeed, no attempt is even made to establish a dichotomy. For good reason, I suspect: I don’t think it’s possible.

    And your attempt at using chosen professions to bifurcate personalities is laughable, as anyone will attest who gives a moments attention to one’s own acquaintances.

    Was Karl Marx a collectivist or was he an individualist? What about Trotsky? Did not Ayn Rand herself depend on collective support throughout her life? So which was Ayn Rand?

    About all one can conclude is that each and every one of us has multiple and contrary characteristics, and that a vain attempt to create archetypes is merely for the vain purpose of drawing invidious comparisons.

  • In spite of the aura of objectivity which seems to surround Joseph Cotto’s pieces, what we’re really treated to is the author’s own projections and wishful thinking.

    Mr. Cotto would do much better trying to analyze the underlying concepts and the ensuing relationships, and simply allow the analysis take him where it will. Who knows, with a little bit of luck and skill he might come up with some surprising results. But until he does that, all he’s going to end up with is affirmation of his cherished views.

    There’s just no sense doing that, not being committed, that is, to the spirit of inquiry, unless the object is to simply validate one’s own thoughts.

  • Glenn,

    I have no opinions to the contrary regarding your first three points. The labels ‘individualist’ and ‘collectivist’ are used in relation to the definitions that I outlined in my previous three articles in this series. If one were to take Part Four alone, then it would seem to be disjointed at best. I submitted part Five days, which should tie up any loose ends, several days ago, before my piece on class consciousness, actually. Why it has not yet been published is beyond me.


    I did indeed establish the dichotomy in my previous articles, as I mentioned to Glenn. Most people do have traits of individuality and collectivism, but one, at least from my personal and professional experiences, tends to be the dominant force in any given life philosophy. A person’s profession can tell a great deal about his or her personality; we are all attracted to certain occupations, and eventually try pursuing them, for one reason or another. For instance, a doctor might be a very analytical fellow who acts with his mind more than heart, and a painter could be a decidedly expressive woman who feels more than reasons. I would say that when the final part of this essay is published, my perspective will be more clearly defined.


    As this is an e-magazine geared toward opinion-based content, one could not expect much other than writers’ ideas to be mentioned in an article. When I write about specific political events, I do try to be as objective as possible in relaying the events themselves, but my thoughts after the fact are exactly that. My philosophical opinion of there being, beyond race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious background, two types of people in this world is not something that I arrived at easily. However, it is a point that I find hard to negate; doing so would, for me at least, require blind faith in spite of the facts. That is just not the way I roll, so to speak. Hopefully, as I mentioned to Glenn and Igor, Part Five will sum things up nicely.

  • “….submitted part Five days, which should tie up any loose ends, several days ago, before my piece on class consciousness….”

    Time for a grammar check; “part Five days, which” should read “Part Five, which”. I should have proofread the comment one more time before posting it. Oh, well. Hopefully a comments editor can help me spruce this up.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doggone it, Joseph, now you’re making me go look at the whole forest instead of just the trees! But how can I see the forest – there’s a bunch of trees in the way!

  • Igor

    #3-Roger: Yes, Furthermore Joseph seems even to be disinterested in rationalizing his peculiar theories.

  • Well, he provided sort of an excuse in the subsequent comment, saying that the BC Politics section is mainly opinion, so one doesn’t have to try hard.

    Seems rather lame to me. Why bother, then?