The Unreliable Guide to…Individualism
We all like to think of ourselves as individuals. Our culture tells us we should know our own mind, follow our hearts and be ourselves. Advertisers certainly play on this desire.
Sociologists Cheng & Schweitzer define individualism in advertising as emphasising “the individual as being distinct and unlike others” – ironic when the advertiser’s intention is for millions of us to wear the same jeans, drink the same beer and eat the same brand of spicy chicken. The philosophy we’ve bought into is that we must be ourselves – unique, not part of the group – and the greatest symbol of the cult of the individual has to be the selfie. This mirrored cataloguing of every pouting pose breeds narcissism, insecurity and self-obsession. But does that self have to be selfish? The Unreliable Guide thinks not.
We haven’t always been individualistic. Many early cultures frown on the tall poppies who distance themselves from the tribe. For them, community is strength. Those who think only of themselves are a grasping and uncivilised danger to society. Society, by the way, is not a dirty word. Society is the institution that enables me to write columns like this for your (hopeful) entertainment.
I write while others grow and cook my food, teach me, protect me, make my clothes, take my rubbish away and heal me when I’m sick. We all have our part to play. So, why do some people believe they can forget the collective when it comes to public health? “Vaccination? Nah, I don’t fancy it; it’s not for me.” But it’s not just for you, that’s the whole point. It’s for all of us. Humans have thrived on this planet because we’ve acted as a collective. First in hunter gatherer tribes, then agricultural villages, then industrial cities, and now in the vast global connection of the internet.
But the power of the many comes with responsibility. To enjoy the freedom of society we have to look after it. If we don’t, we will be like lost little bees, flying around without hive or honey, eaten up by any passing dragonfly.
“My body, my choice, right?” No. The reason that attitude makes us so very angry is because your choice to be unvaccinated doesn’t just affect you, it affects the world. Being unvaccinated puts others at greater risk of infection, enables vaccine resistant variants and (despite your alleged mistrust of science) you take up urgently needed hospital beds when you get sick. Living in a society is a privilege, and that privilege comes with obligations.
I think it’s fair to say that not actively making yourself a harm to others would be high on that list of obligations. I know some people can’t get vaccinated, that’s a totally different story and I worry for them. Others might not necessarily need a particular vaccination because they’ve already had a similar strain of the disease. A total anti-vaccination stance, however, is a deliberate decision to place a perceived fear for the self over the welfare of the collective.
Apart from the fact that vaccines are proven to reduce individual risk, we aren’t individual cells floating about in space. We are a closely connected global organism. If one ant – or one bee – is sick, we all stand a greater risk of getting sick. Or dying.
Finally, our bodies rely on the collective to be healed, fed, taught, paid, amused and protected. Our bodies are not our own, they never have been. If we put cocaine or meth in our body, we run the risk of being arrested. If we don’t strap our body into our cars, we’re going against the law. If we refuse to allow our body to be examined at most airports, we’re not getting on the plane. This has all been in place for years. Social health requires every body. United we stand.